Yesterday during his sermon during the morning service of the Feast of Trumpets, our retired pastor made a comment about a piece of criticism that stuck with him as a young pastor who had been upbraided by an evangelist after a sermonette early in his ministerial career that the Feast of Trumpets was not about a singular trumpet (namely the seventh trumpet) but rather trumpets. It is easy to see how such a criticism could stay with someone for decades as this piece of criticism did. It is also worthwhile pondering how this criticism was unfair, and what the implications of this unfairness have when it comes to our own efforts at being witty in criticism with others. As someone who spends much time and effort in the realm of criticism, I am of course directing a fair bit at myself and no small amount to others where it is due as well.
Why was this criticism unfair, as accurate as it may have been? A speaker has between ten and twelve minutes, and maybe a bit longer if there is some flexibility, in order to give a sermonette. I have spoken elsewhere on the sermonette as a genre, but its very short length requires a great deal of concision in the approach of a speaker to a message. It is impossible to do justice to the subject of multiple trumpets in a message as small as a sermonette, and even impossible to do justice to the seventh trumpet by itself, which as a subject could take multiple messages to do justice to. As someone who recently spoke for more than an hour and a half on the boundaries of one of the ten commandments and then was asked about a point which will require speaking another hour about something I mentioned off-hand in that message but which relates to two earlier messages in a series, I can feel a great deal of empathy for someone who tries to do a biblical subject justice in ten minutes. I know I tend to have to focus something into an extremely narrow format to do a sermonette justice, and find it extremely easy to come up with material that it takes hours of speaking at a rather rapid pace to cover with any degree of completeness.
How would it have been possible to address the evangelist’s concern given the extreme time limitations of a sermonette? Since it is impossible to do justice to such a massive subject as the entirety of the seven trumpets–which covered even in a basic fashion would likely take a whole sermon message, and since it is unwise to cover such material in a slapdash and superficial manner–the best response would have been to acknowledge that one is only talking about a small selection of the material that exists about the subject while also expressing a hope about someone else covering such material later on or one’s own hope in covering such material at a later date. That way the audience is aware that one is making a selection of material and not pretending to be complete in one’s approach while also maintaining one’s focus on what one can talk about given the strict limitations of time for such a short message as a sermonette.
And this is a worthwhile procedure overall. Given the impossibility of doing justice to the complexity of the Bible about any one subject, or giving all of the layers of possible application even to the smallest biblical verses, it is worthwhile that we make it clear to our audience–as well as to ourselves–that we are narrowing our focus from the fullness of what exists to a small selection of that which we can cover with some degree of completeness in a limited amount of time. Making it clear that there is more to say but cannot be covered in the allotted time and space available to us is following the example of biblical writers , and is also a reminder to the listener that there is more to read, more to hear, more to study, and more to understand, all of which helps keep our study of the Bible fresh and exciting and keeps us from the illusion that we understand everything already when we have barely scratched the surface of what there is to know.
 Some examples include the following:
John 21:24-25: “This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.”
Hebrews 5:11, breaking into the thought: “of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.”
3 John :13-14a: “ I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face.”
Harshness in the guise of correction for growth was the rule of the day during that period of time in Worldwide. Grandpa used to return from Spokesman’s Club with stories about how the evaluators slashed a fellow member’s speech to shreads. Things sometimes got personal or were understandably taken that way. But these members were following their example. It was a miracle that anyone actually graduated, much less passed a speech the first time he gave it.
I’m of the understanding that, at that time, ministers were trained to look for faults in their subordinates for the purpose of “the perfecting of the saints.” Unfortunately, this was more often than not done in an upbraiding manner to assert their authority. The field ministry often didn’t know better because they took their cues from the senior pastors over them. And on it went. Servant leadership demands spiritual maturity and, as we now know, the Church was in its infancy stage for decades. We still have plenty of room for growth.
Yes, it is precisely this attitude that I comment on as being a problem somewhat often, as this attitude still remains and therefore still remains an issue. There are people who consider the praise they got for their evaluations in the good old days as being reinforcement for the way that they want to behave now in offering withering criticism in the guise of encouraging growth, not realizing that it really is only feeding their own ego for supposed expertise. I do remember that by the time I went to Graduate Club with Grampa that there was a less critical attitude, but with the beginners it can still be quite harsh in some circles.