It was a Sunday evening in August, and I had just finished my sermon. I gave the benediction, stepped down from the platform, and headed in the direction of my wife, who was chatting with a small group of ladies. I moved up behind her, gently placed my hands on her shoulders, and kissed her on the back of the head. Little did I know it would become "the kiss heard 'round the world"—well, maybe more like "the kiss heard 'round the community." Nevertheless, it was The Kiss, not the sermon, that everyone would remember from that evening.
I was in my third month of pastoring a congregation that had endured quite a beating emotionally—I'm talking about a ten-rounds-with-Oscar-De-La-Hoya kind of beating. The former pastor had resigned after the revelation of an extramarital affair. His was another marriage felled like a tree, ultimately ending in the big D. As I surveyed the difficult situation, I figured I had just the remedy: preaching. In fact, I told my wife, "I'm here to preach. Somebody else can do all the hospital visits and the house calls!" Of course, I soon found myself stopping by the local elementary school to drop off a pack of Tums for a fifth grader with acid-reflux or letting someone's dog out to go potty while a family tended to a hospital emergency. After each pastoral call came my way and I dutifully answered, my wife would turn to me with a sly smile and say, "Oh—you can't be doing that. All you're going to do is preach!"
I discovered within the first three months of my first pastorate what we all discover—that our ministry extends far beyond our preaching. And I even learned that something as simple as a kiss can be just as important as a sermon.
That night in August, the same sleepy-eyed congregants who minutes earlier were fighting to stay awake during my sermon, now had their eyes wide open, riveted on me and my wife. Had I offended them with my public show of affection? No! They were smiling. And seeing them smile was like watching the frozen, dreary days of winter give way to the thawing sunshine of spring.
As I mingled among the saints, shaking hands along the way, I began to hear things like: "That was the sweetest thing I've ever seen;" "It did my heart good to see that;" "I love to see a husband and his wife be affectionate toward one another publicly." My wife heard similar comments. We received calls at our home—people telling us just how much it meant to them to see The Kiss. We were even approached as we were out and about in the community. People would come up to us and say, "I heard what happened at church the other night." Good news doesn't always travel fast, but on this occasion, it did.
It took a little while for me to understand why everyone was making such a big deal out of a little kiss. Why all the buzz? Why had it been pleasing to so many? Then it finally occurred to me: things had gotten out of tune.
I play the guitar, and the first thing I do when preparing to play is to tune the instrument. Nothing frustrates me more than hearing a guitar that is out of tune. Musical dissonance is uncomfortable. But when a guitar is in tune, suddenly what you hear is harmonious. You lift up your head. You look. You listen. You smile with delight. You say, "This is how it ought to be." The sweet, melodic sounds stand out against the backdrop of what was once discordant. It "does your heart good." The little kiss I gave my wife that evening had an impact on the people, because what they had seen before had been so wildly out of tune.
Still, there was more for me to learn from this experience. In my tunnel vision approach to being a pastor, I had given little thought to any contribution I could make to the flock apart from my preaching. It became clear that I had overlooked a valuable tool in the shepherd's bag: those little acts of love that speak volumes. In an exhortation to elders, the apostle Peter said, "Shepherd the flock of God … not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3, ESV). Those who shepherd the flock are not to domineer. They are not to boss others around. They are not to say one thing while doing another. Such actions create dissonance, discord, disharmony. Instead, we shepherds are "examples"—a word meaning impression, such as leaving an image on a coin. In particular, we are called to exemplify the character of Christ to those under our charge.
A few weeks after our memorable evening, my wife and I took a leisurely walk around the block, discussing the impression The Kiss had made. We considered the possibility that God had called us to this place for a time such as this, and that perhaps one of the most helpful things we could do for these dear people was for us to stay in tune as a married couple. We recommitted ourselves to that end. Then my wife smiled and said, "You can't be doing that. All you're going to do is preach! Remember?"
© 2009, Will Willimon. Adapted with permission from "Keeping Preaching Fresh," presented at the 2009 National Pastors Convention held by Zondervan.
Van Morris is pastor of Calvary Christian Center in Mount Washington, Kentucky, and a regular contributor to