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ON PREACHING

Writing Thank You Notes

By Douglas Green


iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Willie Nelson was singing about his girlfriends, but all I could think about were people who have passed through our church:

To all the ones I’ve loved before
Who traveled in and out our door
I’m glad they came along
I dedicate this song.
To all the ones I’ve loved before.1

My list of former girlfriends is rather short, not much content for a song, but it dawned on me: I have preached a lot of sermons to a lot of people. Doing the math in my head it appears, in fact, I have preached over 800 sermons (or over 2,000 if you count the years of multiple services). So, in celebration of over two decades of preaching from behind the same pulpit, I want to do what you are supposed to do after a good birthday party. I want to write thank you notes. I bought cards, so here we go.

Take out first note card and start writing:

To All the Ones Who Only Heard Me Preach Once

Thank you for giving me a shot to gain your ear. Over the years I have thought about you a lot, especially on Mondays. I can only assume, for those of you who left mid-sermon, you were responding to an emergency text message. We all get them; they’re inconvenient. To those who stayed till the benediction but ran for the parking lot at the final “Amen,” thank you for hearing the whole of it. I have often thought, in a rare moment of confidence, it was probably the loud music, the less-than-perfect greeters, or the uncomfortable chairs that drove you away. Rapidly away. It certainly couldn’t have been the preaching, for. …

Ah … never mind … can’t send that one. Crumble. Toss into the trash can.

New note card:

To All the Ones Who Slept While I Spoke

Thank you for feeling so confident to do what I wanted to do: take a nap. I looked straight at you. I wasn’t mad at you; I envied you. Do you know how good a nap sounds on a Sunday morning, especially after a restless Saturday night? Life sure isn’t fair. Then again, maybe it is fair, for on Mondays I sleep in late when you’re. …

Nah … not a good idea. I don’t want any of my pastor friends to know I have sleepers in my church. Crumble. Trash. Take out new note card:

To All the Ones Who Became Part of Us, Then Left

Thank you for the memories. I remember the first time you came to a service. You chose to come back. How encouraged I was to see you again. Over the years we wept; we laughed. We shared a lot of life together. I remember how kind you were after your father’s funeral, letting me know God used me. I remember telling your story in the sermon and thinking your story was the best thing I said that morning. I remember dedicating your children to the Lord, baptizing them years later, and then watching them go off to college. I remember missions trips. Picnics. Fist bumps in the foyer.

Then, I heard you were shopping around for another church, another pastor. I remember getting the word from somebody else that you had left the church. I took the high road when I heard because it’s the right thing to do. But if you want me to be honest, it felt like a kick in the gut. It sucked the wind out of my sails. I was ready to quit, convinced everybody else was quitting. It was hard, for I loved you, and I loved your family. I gave myself to you. Every week. I spoke God’s Word to you. We shared the same. …

Nah … I can’t send this. I really want to, but I won’t. But it’s good to get it on paper, for I still miss them. I forgot how much I loved them.

Let me try again:

To All the Ones Who Came and Stayed

Thank you. Do you have any idea how special it is to share God’s Word with you? I remember the morning you looked up and caught my eye during the invitation to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. You had tears in your eyes. You decided to follow Jesus, and I got to be there to see it happen. Amazing.

You’ve grown since that time. You’re such a part of what God is doing in our church. When I think of you, I think I have a great job. You make me want to study and prepare all the more for next Sunday. I love how you respond to what God says. You have fallen in love with His Word, and it’s a blast to see how much you love Him.

Remember, a few years ago, when I asked you to help me be a better preacher, and I couldn’t get you to tell me what was wrong with my preaching? When I pressed you for why you wouldn’t reveal my weaknesses, you told me you loved me and the sermon was not a performance but a part of our relationship. You, in fact, told me how our conversation on a Thursday was almost more important than my sermon on Sunday. You said you loved my preaching because you loved me, helping me understand what it means to be a pastor.

You make me want to be a better pastor. Because of you, I put myself through the grind of sermon prep every week. The gnawing that starts about Tuesday, knowing that on Sunday I’ll stand behind the pulpit and speak on behalf of God Almighty, has never gone away. I’m as nervous today as when I first started. I want to get it right for I know it matters. Because you hear His Word and apply it each week, I am willing to wrestle with my own self-righteousness and let the biblical text do something in my heart every week. It means a lot to me when I hear Jesus say, “For their sake I sanctify myself,” because that’s what I do every week. Because of you, I lose sleep, battle doubt, fight fear, overcome temptation, sacrifice leisure, and try to do my best to deliver God’s Word for you and your family. It’s impossible to be amazing every week, so I just shoot to be faithful. Humble, too. I’ve learned the hard way there is no such thing as a great sermon, just a great text; there is no such thing as a great preacher, just a great Christ.

Because of you, He has used me. I love you,
Doug, your pastor, your preacher, your friend.
Folded. Stuffed. Sealed. Stamped. Left in the mailbox for future reference.
To be retrieved on Mondays.

DOUG GREEN, founding pastor, North Hills Church, Brea, California

Note

1. Words adapted from, All the Girls I’ve Loved Before, written by Albert Hammond and Hal David, © EMI Music Publishing.

 

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