Preaching as Fussing
Preaching as Fussing
While talking with a colleague who teaches preaching, the concept of preaching as fussing came up. I had not thought of this concept before. Fussing tends to have a negative sense about it. We all know that to make a fuss over someone or something may seem to be over the top—too much excitement or focus on one person or thing. We see this in a translation of Luke 10:41 where Jesus chastises Martha because she fussed over dinner preparations a bit too much: “Martha, Martha! You worry and fuss about a lot of things.” But cannot fussing have a positive side to it? In the case of Mary and Martha, one would hope that someone was fussing over getting dinner ready! Does not the Bible have something constructive to say about preaching as fussing? Below are five considerations for the place of fussing in our preaching.
Fussing means concern
Fussing means that one is concerned for and about his or her congregation. As pastors we are immensely interested in the lives of the men and women and boys and girls under our care. This was expressed by Pastor Paul in his second letter to the Corinthian church and other congregations he planted and led, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28).
A pastoral concern for the congregation of believers God has given to me is woven into each of my sermons. Concern for their welfare—spiritually, emotionally, physically, and more—was part of my approach to preaching. Concern can be seen by the words and tone of the sermon genuinely expressed to one’s listeners. Here the preacher isn’t one person in the pulpit and a different person out of the pulpit. One listener told me that she loved hearing a certain pastor preach. In his preaching he came across warm and full of concern. She lived in the same neighborhood as the preacher. She was disappointed to discover that he was aloof and distant each time she tried to engage him. Fussing means concern—genuine, pastoral concern.
Fussing is compassion
The great preacher, Jesus, looked at those to whom he was addressing and Matthew describes, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). Jesus was deeply moved by the needs represented in the people he saw before him. The word “compassion” is a strong word. Jesus was deeply moved. He was overwhelmed with their condition and need for care. He was fussing.
As a preacher, you stand in front of a congregation that you know—and probably know very well. You see the individuals and families and you know their stories. You know their hurts, hopes, and secrets. There are things that I know about the people in the congregations I’ve served that I can’t tell anyone about, ever. The mini-biographies of my flocks overwhelm me with compassion for them, and help me in the manner in which I preach to them. Fussing is compassion.
Fussing is encouragement
A striking feature of Paul’s preaching is encouragement. Luke records, “He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people …” (Acts 20:2). Elsewhere Paul tells Timothy that one of the functions of preaching is encouragement. He writes to Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).
The preached word encourages, it does something that no other word can do. It feeds the listener, propelling him or her to move forward in faith. Once corrected, the listener can continue toward Christlikeness. My colleague for twenty-one years, Haddon Robinson wisely noted, “You need ten ‘atta boys’ for every one ‘you jerk.’” Words of encouragement, especially from God’s Word, lifts the hearts of those who hear them. Too often pulpits are places of “discouraging words.” We want to be preachers who fuss over giving encouraging words. Fussing is encouragement.
Fussing is strengthening
On his second tour of ministry, Luke describes Paul’s mission: “He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:41). Preaching that fusses over the strengthening of the church is good, solid fussing. Paul evangelized, established congregations, taught them doctrine, corrected deficient teaching, he strengthened the faith of the faithful as he fussed over them.
Our preaching can strengthen the faith of those whom we shepherd. Proper teaching, gentle leading, and practical application of biblical truth will strengthen the church. Paul also knew what his congregations needed, and we want to preach and teach what our congregations need, not what they think need. Sermon planning aimed at spiritual maturity is what we want to keep in view. My book, Preaching with a Plan: Sermon Strategies for Growing Mature Believers (Baker) will help you get a start on planning that strengthens your listeners. I saw this played out by one of my former students. He assigned my book to his elders and gathered them together to assess the spiritual maturity of the church. Together they put together a preaching plan—and ministry plan that met the church where they are and to take them to the next level of spiritual maturity, because fussing is strengthening.
Fussing is love
Our words and attitude toward our listeners can be sharp, careless, and unthoughtful. Neither do we want to sugarcoat hard teaching or correction. God’s truth is to be preached, but in a way that can be heard well and grasped openly. Paul reminds the Ephesian believers that if they are to preach and teach well, they are not to do it like the schemers who are trying to lure them away from the truth, but they are to do it with fussing, a fussing love. He writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
Hard truth in preaching is to be presented with a soft heart. We don’t want our listeners to be persuaded by the cunning lies of current culture but we want to engage with them with fussing love.
Pastoral preaching in love is something that we want to be part of our overall preaching. I can remember preaching to my congregation after a challenging business meeting. The sermon was honest, firm, but loving. As pastor, I knew I needed to shepherd them with love into a direction that would help them to mature. As a result, tears were shed. Apologies made from one to another. I fussed over them with love.
One way to push us to fussing love is to remember the objections our listeners might have in their minds with the ideas we present. If we pick up on their questions and answer them with love, they will better understand what Christ is calling them to be and do and we’ll demonstrate to them that their questions are important, demonstrating our fussing love for them. Fussing is love.
Whether or not we like to admit it, sometimes we like to be made a fuss over—and our congregations may, too. Fussing isn’t only negative, it can be positive, helpful, appropriate. The next time you think of fussing, think of preaching as fussing. Preaching as fussing may be a fresh approach for us to care for those whom God has given to us to shepherd through preaching. So, make a fuss. Preach as fussing.
Scott M. Gibson is the Professor of Preaching and holder of the David E. Garland Chair of Preaching at Baylor University/Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. He also served as the Haddon W. Robinson Professor of Preaching and Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he was on faculty for twenty-seven years.