1. It is easy to beat up an absent foe. I have seen this and maybe even fallen into it. It is easy to critique someone who is not present. They could be a liberal biblical commentator, a member of another religion, a published and vocal atheist, or a political figure. In their absence we can act like the cartoon mouse with chest puffed out and fists swinging, bragging about all that we would do to such and such a cat . . . This kind of bravado doesn’t win friends in an age of recordings taken out of context and aired online, it doesn’t really impress the people listening. If we are addressing an issue promoted by someone who isn’t present, then we must do our homework, know our stuff, and reflect both biblical truth and grace in how we address it. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we have to protect our people from false ideas that are out there, but we also have to be an example in the way we express ourselves.
2. It is easy to offend by association. It is easy to communicate an “us and them” idea, and then inadvertently offend any members of the “them” who happen to be present. For instance, as we distinguish Christians from the world, let’s be careful not to give the impression that we think we are better than outsiders. Always assume “outsiders” might be present and speak in words and tone that fairly reflect the Lord we represent.
3. It is hard to win your congregation’s trust. What does this have to do with people not present? Everything. Who will bring their friends and relatives to church next week? Certainly not anyone that wouldn’t want their friends and relatives present for what you said this week! It takes years to build relationships, and if the congregation is resistant to inviting their friends and colleagues to church events, it may well be because you haven’t earned their trust over years of careful and winsome preaching. Maybe I am missing something biblically, but I don’t see why I should invite a friend, and potentially lose a friend, just because an event is happening at church. If I don’t trust the church and the speaker (and some other factors too), then I won’t bring them. And nor will they. So we have to preach as if hoped for visitors were already present.
Thoughts always welcome…