“We just wanted to say how much we were inspired by your message,” intoned the wife.
“Thank you so much,” said the parson. “And thank you for inviting me to your beautiful church.”
“Oh, the pleasure was all ours, Parson,” said the man. “We don't hear preaching like that too often.”
The pastoral hairs on the back of the parson's neck began to tingle. “Well, I'm at an advantage. I'm only preaching here this once, most likely. So, I can pull out a good, tested, semon and preach it without anyone knowing it's an old practiced one.”
“You're too modest, Parson,” said the man. “Listen, it was good to hear your sermon. We'd heard about you from Henry Watson. We expected it to be good and it was. Too bad we can't say that about our pastor.”
“It is too bad you can't say that about your pastor,” said the parson. “And now that you've been frank about your pastor I hope you'll allow me to be frank also.”
“Of course,” said the couple in unison.
“Listen, folks, what I'm about to say doesn't in anyway negate my gratitude for you saying you liked my sermon. I'm grateful for that. But, truth is, I knew you would like it. I've been preaching for over forty years. I have this file of tried and true sermons from which I can pull one when I'm preaching at another church. I probably first wrote the sermon you heard tonight in the 1960s. People liked it, so I went back to it time and time again, just like I did tonight. And every time I preached it I refined it. So, I can tell you without any hint of modesty, but truthfully, that I knew you'd like this sermon before I stepped into the pulpit.
“Now, your pastor is another matter. He has to prepare over a hundred sermons a year for you folks. And he has to prepare the sermon knowing that he's going to have to face you next Sunday, and at the board meeting on Tuesday or the Men's Club on Saturday morning or the women's group whenever they meet. He has to preach to you week after week after week without the luxury of pulling one out of the “really good sermon” file like I did. It's a daunting task, and it's especially difficult if you think you're not that good a preacher. So, my advice to you is to make your pastor a good preacher.”
“That's what seminary's for, isn't it, Parson?”
“Well, sometimes you're better at it than seminary. Tell you what, why don't you try an experiment. Do this, check the lectionary to see what the pastor's preaching on next Sunday. For instance, this Sunday the Gospel lesson is the Prodigal Son. Why don't you read it over a few times, and then next Sunday when you're greeting the pastor after the service tell him you really liked some aspect of the way he preaches on it. Give him a compliment that's specific, something like, 'You know, pastor, I never looked at the elder son in that way.' If enough of you do that you might be surprised.
“And if you do that two things will happen. First, you'll come to church truly expecting something from the sermon, and usually when you do that you actually get something. Secondly, your pastor will begin to look forward to preaching to you. It's a win-win. Why not try it.”
The couple stood silently as though trying to formulate an answer. They didn't get to answer. Andrew Todd, their pastor approached. “Thanks so much for tonight, Parson. It was really good to have you.”
“Thank's for the invitation, Andy,” said the parson. “It was a great night.” The parson nodded to the couple, “Nice to meet you folks.”
The parson began to walk toward his car with the pastor by his side. “I see you met the Howard's.”
“I did,” said the parson. “We were talking about how they are looking forward to your sermon next Sunday.”
“Are you serious?” asked Andy.
“I am,” said the parson. “They're expecting something special.”