I don't normally reference other blog posts - I take it you have better things to do than read the same thing over and over. But one particular post caught my eye this week because I've been thinking about something similar, although not quite the same. I saw the link on Challies blog (where else) to this post by Tom Rainer, CEO of Lifeway. Essentially, he was making the point that pastors should not make the mistake of ignoring what materials are being used in church. Hey, guys, if you use Lifeway materials, then you're on solid ground.
OK, I'm being facetious, but he's got a point. Although, to be fair, it's a point those of us in UK sized churches will have little trouble over - most of us can keep an eye on what happens in our small groups. What got me thinking was a slightly broader question. What are your people hearing? Let me put it another way: where are your people getting taught?
I'm not into the kind of heavy shepherding that tells people where they go or what they can listen to online. I can't imagine how you'd ever police that anyway. But pretty much every Christian has some input outside of church:
perhaps they use Bible reading notes?
perhaps they visit certain sites or blogs and download audio?
perhaps they support certain Christian organisations who hold certain lines?
perhaps (this is almost certainly the worst!!) they watch Christian TV which means (in the UK) Revelation TV or GOD channel?
perhaps they attend an external group
You can't possibly (and nor should you, I would suggest) shepherd all of this input. But still, it's good to know - even wise to know - the sort of thing people are hearing. It's not always easy - I've been trying to find out some more detail about a reasonably well known external study group - but have been fobbed off and told by participants that I can't see their notes as it's not allowed (that kind of thing rings all sorts of alarm bells, despite the fact that I know that this group is pretty orthodox). So, how do you know what people are hearing?
Here's my radical notion. You spend time with them. You talk to them. I know, pretty far out, isn't it? Start small: you have them to lunch and you can ask them what they've been up to this week. What have they been learning in their notes and so on. We used to call this pastoring and it's a key element of ministry, often lacking today. For it shapes what you do in the pulpit. Any preacher knows that preaching as a visitor at another church is a bit of a hit and miss affair. You don't know the people. But without knowing what your people are going through in general terms, and also in the specificas, how can you be anything other than a visiting preacher to them? More specifically, how can you preach to your own people unless you know what they're hearing?