While most Methodist churches refrain from all kinds of clapping — either the rhythmic kind during a praise song or the appreciative kind during a sermon — Good Shepherd has always been one of the exceptions.
We clap during most songs on most Sundays. We even clapped during a version of “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” on Christmas Eve.
And every so often, people applaud during sermons. When it happens, it’s heady, invigorating stuff. Once, during the 2012 election season, people applauded when I asked, “who would have ever thought a chicken sandwich would be a political statement?” Didn’t see that one coming.
Yet preaching for the applause can be quite dangerous. Why? Because the quickest way to get a group of largely like-minded people to applaud is to set up a straw man opponent and then tear him down with your words.
So I suspect that in some church communities, the pastor could get applause if he preached against atheists or against communists or against adulterers or against Democrats or against Republicans. Goodness, there are probably some who get applause for preaching against Methodists. Or Baptists. And I know that over the last decade people will clap for you if you preach against Islam. Nothing rallies people together better than a common enemy.
Which is why I try with varying degrees of success to preach for things as opposed to against them. It’s why I hope to preach for . . .
*The uniqueness of Christ;
*The authority of Scripture;
*The fact that staying faithful is the best way to ‘bring sexy back’;
*The joy of salvation;
*The reality that what unites us is cross & not candidate, resurrection and not race, the blood applied and not the blood inside;
*The power God implants in each of us to deliver us from self-destruction.
I hope to preach for truth and for grace and for love and for eternity. And maybe, just maybe, the applause will come from the One who is the sum total of all I am for.
Talbot Davis is pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina and the author of Solve, Head Scratchers: When the Words of Jesus Don't Make Sense, The Storm Before the Calm and The Shadow of a Doubt, all from Abingdon Press.