John R. de Witt, former pastor of several large churches, is my friend and mentor in the ministry. Recently, he spoke at RTS Charlotte on the accrued wisdom of 50 years in the pastorate. He related an anonymous letter which caused him to reflect upon how he preached. I found it very helpful, and thought it would be helpful both to preachers and laypeople in understanding the challenge and task of the church:
I came to your church sun and brought a young couple with me who are struggling with living a Christian life and are being pulled by the world with drugs, sex and alcohol. Many of the young people you preach to on Sunday morning are sleeping together on Friday and Saturday nights in a drugged, drunken stupor. They don’t really want to live like that but are pressured from all directions and are seeking some alternatives. What an awesome responsibility the church has to reach and develop these intelligent well educated young people. If you and your wife had been this young couple, what would you have taken home with you that would help you to face the world they have to live in this week?
You live in a sheltered world. They’re coming in there Sunday morning crying out for help –if the church doesn’t help them who will? What you said was doctrinally correct: repetitious, but cold. They need to know that God is real and that he is alive and wants to live in them that he is far greater and more caring than any earthly father could ever be, that he hears them and will comfort when their little world is falling apart –that they don’t have to turn to the crutches this world offers them but that Jesus is always there with his big loving arms open ready to love them and listen to their problems –that they can cast their cares on him for he really cares.
There are some young people who listen to you every Sunday who have considered suicide: they’re not getting answers. I’ve worked with them for thirty years. When they learn who they are as God’s child, and as a joint heir with Jesus entitled to all he is and has, that he can supply their every need then he becomes real and they depend on him instead of some psychiatrist that is in worse shape than they are. Second Presbyterian Church draws the young people who will be leaders in this city. Most of them are not getting any help at home. Their homes are broken by the same problems they have. I believe you are the man God has put there. Don’t let them go away with some cold doctrinal truths each Sunday –you will gradually lose them. I agree they need this. But first they need his love guidance and acceptance –they need some answers.