By Crystal Caviness, public relations specialist at United Methodist Communications
When it comes to what makes a pastor beloved, being funny ranks right up there with not judging others as the most appreciated traits.
Apparently, keeping sermons interesting and not dragging out the message endears itself to church members too.
More than 650 people recently answered the question “What do you appreciate most about your pastor?” on the United Methodist Church’s official Facebook page. The query was asked in recognition of October’s Pastor Appreciation Month.
United Methodists like pastors who bring a sense of humor into the pulpit.
The Rev. Mark Benge at First United Methodist Church, Lafayette, La., inserts humor into his sermons, a trait his congregation finds endearing. He is pictured here, far left, with church members, as they perform for the service. Photo courtesy of Mark Benge.
“I appreciate my pastor, Mark Benge, because he can answer serious questions about the Bible one minute and have me belly laughing the next,” says Nancy Stimson Brennan, a member at First United Methodist Church, Lafayette, La.
Brennan says her pastor’s quick wit keeps the congregation on its toes.
“He will be preaching and then drop in a funny remark,” she says. “I think he’s making sure everyone is paying attention.”
Members at Newtown United Methodist Church in Newtown, Conn., appreciate that Pastor Mel Kawakami weaves funny stories into his sermons.
“Our pastor is hilarious and loves to laugh alongside us,” says Robbin Chaber Allen.
“We all think Mel is so funny,” Allen says. “With each sermon, he brings in a part of himself and makes it personal with a self-deprecating sense of humor.”
Kawakami’s sense of humor helped ease grieving hearts in the weeks and months following theDecember 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which is located in the same neighborhood as Newtown United Methodist Church. In fact, Kawakami was among the first clergy members who responded that day.
“After 12/14, Mel very gently found a way to bring humor back into a very grieving community just by relating things on a personal level and helping us laugh at his own human foibles.”
Compassionate and accepting
The humor, of course, does not occur at the expense of others’ feelings. Many members cited compassion and being nonjudgmental as favorite characteristics of clergy.
First United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tenn., is located downtown in an area heavily populated by families and individuals in need. The doors at FUMC Johnson City are open to everyone, says Dedri Minutolo, who has been a member there for nine years.
“We have a place that welcomes everyone, and Pastor Jane Taylor doesn’t look down on anyone,” Minutolo says. “She wants everybody to be a part of our church.”
Michael Ryan, who attends First United Methodist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, stumbled upon that church and its senior pastor, Dr. Tim Bruster, at the lowest point in his life, he says.
“At the age of 42 and for the first time in my life, I began to attend church services on a regular basis. I came to the church broken of spirit. I had tried many avenues to seek happiness. I was hopelessly lost in drug addiction with little belief in a better tomorrow,” Ryan says. “The sermon that Dr. Bruster delivered not only captured my attention, it delivered a desire to come again and hear more about Christ and the Good News for all who follow Him. Now, eight years later, I still attend on a regular basis.
“Pastor Bruster, along with the associate pastors, staff and congregation at First Church, never cease to amaze me in their ability to make each and every person feel welcome and of equal importance regardless of one’s personal standing in the community or prior personal failings,” says Ryan.
The Rev. Richard White of Quitman First United Methodist Church in Quitman, Texas, is well thought of because of his engaging sermons. Photo courtesy of the Texas Conference.
Along with a listing of characteristics one might expect to find in pastors – loving, selfless, kind, approachable, genuine – members also appreciate pastors who refrain from being long-winded and boring.
“Pastor Brad (Slaten) doesn’t preach so long that you don’t remember what he is talking about,” says member Terrilyn Taylor, who also plays piano for the church at First United Methodist Church, Coleman, Texas.
At Quitman First United Methodist Church in Quitman, Texas, Katie Freestone Hatcher often finds she isn’t ready for the sermon to end.
“Rev. Richard Preston White is one of the few pastors I’ve heard that can engage me to the point that I’ve thought ‘is church over already?’” Hatcher says. “It will get to be the end of the service, and I could still listen for another half hour. I’ve been to a lot of churches and heard a lot of different pastors and, believe, me, that doesn’t always happen.”