“If you preach to broken hearts, you’ll always have a congregation.”

 

Many years ago, when I was a Methodist minister, my district superintendent asked me to be the preacher at the annual meeting of his district. I wondered what I might say to some 50 of my colleagues.

The thought came to me that they might enjoy hearing my sermon on John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

After the meeting, a pastor spoke to me. He told me he was a great lover of John Wesley, and he thought that the denomination would be much more effective if we would preach, in our own words, the substance of John Wesley’s sermons.

Later on, he shared with me these words: “If you preach to broken hearts, you’ll always have a congregation.” Both my fellow pastor and our district superintendent remained my lifelong friends.

Of course, like so many who prepare sermons, I kept his words in my mental file. I wondered what might be the things that do break people’s hearts. I have observed at least seven:

(1) Death of a spouse, or of other family member, loved one, good friend and so forth;

(2) Serious illness, leading to long-term recovery or to death itself;

(3) Bad accident, causing you or someone else to be an invalid;

(4) Loss of your job and income;

(5) Divorce and loss of contact with your children;

(6) A wayward child;

(7) Financial setback, robbery, loss of your retirement savings.

The next question might be: What can we say to people who have suffered any of the above or other life-disturbing experiences? Here I would suggest seven steps:

(1) Stop. Don’t do anything at first. Take time to calm down.

(2) Look. Make an honest evaluation of the situation.

(3) Listen. Pray, listening for the thoughts the Holy Spirit gives you.

(4) Worship, first alone, then with others in a Bible-preaching church.

(5) Study the Bible, first alone, then in a study group in your church.

(6) Get involved in your church. Make friends with members. Do something helpful.

(7) Put your faith to work. Get active in life again. You are free to make choices.

Every Methodist pastor promises at ordination to study and preach in accord with the standard sermons of the Rev. John Wesley. The first of these sermons is: “Salvation by faith.” The text of this sermon is Ephesians 2:8.

No wonder that pastor was so excited about my sermon on John Wesley!

Now you know that one of the goals of good preaching is to help people live faithfully and victoriously, especially when confronted by the things that break our hearts.

 

The Rev. Richard H. Petersen, Ph.D., was ordained in the Methodist Church in 1961 in North Carolina, now with ministerial credentials in the Evangelical Covenant Church.