Summary: Spiritual diagnosis and spiritual remedy
I hope to encourage the preaching of a spiritual diagnosis and an appropriate remedy.
One of the most dangerous sermons a preacher/pastor/priest can give is, when he goes from preachin' to meddlin' by telling people that Houston, "we" have a problem and how to fix it. This is definitely not for faint hearted people-pleasers, tactless bulls in a china closet, nor for the immature. It needs the wisdom of Solomon, the tact of a French diplomat, the trust of the congregation and the maturity of a tenured preacher. How do we maintain the responsibility Christ has given us to the flock, yet not lose people because we have offended them when analyzing a problem and suggesting a cure?
We will look at the two steps of diagnosis and remedy from an agricultural, sheep-management perspective, analyze the need for diplomatic inclusive language, looking at the problem as the problem rather than the people involved, put it all into the context of the whole problem management process, and the preparation of a diagnosis-remedy or problem-solution sermon.
Sheep farming is among the most difficult jobs of animal husbandry. Any sheep farmer knows his job involves feeding, watering, culling, crutching, wigging, shearing, vaccinations, parasite control, drenching, stocking rates, and a host of other responsibilities. The ability to diagnose health problems caused by worms, fluke, lice, fly-strike, foot rot, and so on is a vital skill. For each diagnosis there is a different set of remedies.
All pastors/priests must remember that the flock is a mob of Christ's sheep. We too are Christ's sheep. We are not the Great Shepherd. Every flock has natural leaders among the sheep, the bossy alpha male ram, or sometimes a cranky old ewe. So too, as sheep we are of the flock, lead sheep yes, but still sheep. This should give us a clue as to who is ultimately responsible. Jesus is the head of the church, not us. Sometimes church leaders give the distinct impression that it is their empire being built, rather than Christ's kingdom, their leadership and vision, not Christ's. The notice outside the church building may say Rev., or some other high, holy, religious-sounding title which really means to the man on the street the "big cheese" or "grand poobah," and then a name, maybe your name. However, we ought to have clearly in our minds that the active head of our church is still Jesus Christ. He has not retired.
Inclusive (1st Person Plural) Language
Whenever we notice a problem then, it is best to place ourselves clearly in the flock as one of the sheep, being addressed by the Great Shepherd, rather than above the flock as a substitute shepherd. That means that we do not say that it is "your" problem as a church, but rather we say that it is "our" problem as Christ's sheep. Using the inclusive first person plural means we use we/us/our language, not you/your language. For instance, we ought to use language like, "We need to hear what Christ is saying to us," and NOT give the impression that we are saying anything like, "You need to hear what I am saying to you."
Include the Whole Human Race
It may be the local church's specific problem, but it is not the first church in the world to ever have this particular problem, nor is the only one at this moment in time. It is a problem common to humanity. So, don't make the local church feel like they are the worst people on the planet or that you disdain even being in their presence. Help them realize that you are also involved in this problem as part of the flock, and that they are part of a problem that is really rather common. They are not particularly weird, or weirder than any other group of human beings on the planet.
Make the Problem the Problem, not the People
It is the problem that we want to remove and not the church, the flies, ticks, or worms and not the sheep. At some point in their career, most pastors look for that perfect church to serve. Transfers are often requested, not so much because they are bored but because they want to escape certain people. Sometimes pastors intentionally preach certain problem people right out of the church. Most pastors eventually realize that every single church has its gossiping Gail or Gary, its know-it-all Noel or Nora, its promiscuous Pete or Penelope, its critical Clara or Carl, its judgmental Jane or Jim. If you solve the problem by getting rid of them, sooner or later, their clone will show up. The problem is not people, but sin. As is often said, church would be a wonderful place if it weren't for the people. But the people are the church. So, exorcise the problem demons (figuratively or literally) and keep the people, unless of course there is a sin going on that is heinous enough to warrant a form of disfellowship or excommunication, of course. That however, is a very rare necessity in most healthy churches.