(CT Pastors) What Pastors See as the ‘New Normal’ for Preaching After the Pandemic

“What I miss the most,” said Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship in New York City, “is just meeting with people afterwards and hearing how their lives are being impacted by the proclaimed message of God’s Word.” Before the pandemic, he would greet worshipers every week in the church lobby after each service and hear feedback (both positive and negative) on the sermon. At times, worshipers’ after-
service comments caused him to tweak the sermon in a later service. He has also missed seeing and hearing real-time reactions as he preaches a sermon—amens, nods, and hums—that he said “help to unlock [preaching] in the moment.”

Villodas vividly remembers a Sunday before the pandemic when a blind African American man visited his Queens church and reacted verbally throughout the sermon. Vocal encouragement from listeners “happens on a regular basis” in Villodas’s multiethnic congregation, which includes people of 75 different nationalities, but he recalls this visitor because he was particularly vocal in a way that made the sermon better. “There was a cadence to his reactions that actually paced me,” Villodas said.

Resuming in-person worship refreshes preaching, Villodas said, because it puts preachers in contact once again with people like that notable visitor, reminding expositors that the Bible is best interpreted in community with other believers. In a post-COVID-19 world, the return of once-absent nods and amens will draw heightened attention as cues that the pastor’s exegesis is on target.

Michael York, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky, agreed that addressing an empty sanctuary “was probably the biggest challenge” of pandemic preaching. With no amens to affirm his exegesis and no laughs to communicate that jokes resonated, “I had no idea how people were responding,” said York, who pastored First Baptist Church in Salem, Missouri, for most of the pandemic before moving to Kentucky in July.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Theology