OLEAN, NY - Every preacher has his own unique way of getting his message across. For some, the method of choice is yelling. For others, it is humor. For still others, it's movement around the stage.
For Rev. Joshua Driver, the key is repetition. According to Driver, "Most people need to hear something two or three times before they really understand it. Because of that, I restate most of my key points as I preach."
Rev. Driver has only been serving in his current church, Allegheny Lutheran, for about eight months. The congregation is excited about him and his young family, but one part of the repetition is beginning to annoy some of the members.
Peggy Tillis, a 17-year-member of Allegheny, told TBNN, "We really like our new pastor. He is just so kind and pleasant. When he preaches, I don't mind it when he repeats his main message. However, there is one problem - his pet phrase. He just can't resist saying 'As we serve together.' He says it over and over during every sermon. I can't figure out if he knows he's doing it or not."
According to several other Allegheny members who wished to remain anonymous, the typical church service begins something like this: After an opening hymn, Pastor Driver comes to the podium to make the announcements. In the span of four or five announcements, he will say, "As we serve together," at least five times.
Examples provided by the members include:
-"This week, the choir will practice on Thursday instead of Wednesday as we serve together."
-"On Tuesday, as we serve together, we will serve supper at the local homeless shelter."
-"Our youth group has much to be proud of. They have returned from a service trip to Pittsburgh. We'll be hearing from them tonight as we serve together."
-"As we serve together, let's all give toward our annual Christmas offering for missions."
-"The Ladies Quartet will be singing at the nursing home this Friday night. Try to be there to support them as we serve together."
Charles Simmons, who was part of the search committee for the new pastor, informed us, "I'm all for serving together, but this is getting out of hand. Not only does Pastor Driver use his phrase in the announcements, but he fills his sermons with it, too. Last week, during a thirty-five minute sermon, he said 'As we serve together,' twenty-eight times. It has become a massive distraction. We have godly members of this church who now, instead of listening to the sermon, just count how many times he says it. I've even heard of some folks who are having a secret weekly raffle based on how many times he uses it!"
This past Sunday, Driver preached from Romans 12. We have heard, through those anonymous sources, that the following were some of the sayings from the sermon:
-"We must strive to present our entire selves to God as living sacrifices as we serve together."
-"Refuse to be conformed to this world as we serve together, but be changed by the renewal of your thinking as we serve together."
-"If you have the gift of service, then serve one another as we serve together."
-"Despise what is evil, hold on strong, as we serve together, to all good things."
-"As we serve together, do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good as we serve together."
Three weeks ago, church member Victoria Fleming (pictured here) had a psychotic break toward the end of the sermon. Her husband, Phil, told TBNN that Victoria has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Repetitions of any type bother her if she is not in control of the situation. Throughout the sermon, Victoria became increasingly agitated. Finally, after Pastor Driver said, 'As we serve together,' for the 39th time, Victoria lost it. She reportedly got a crazed look on her face, screamed, and them fell flat on the floor. Two EMTs who happened to be at the service took care of her until an ambulance could arrive. The Flemings reportedly will be switching their membership to a nearby Presbyterian church because of the danger of the sermons at Allegheny.
TBNN has learned that several groups within the church want to tell the pastor about his pet phrase, but they do not know how to go about it. A few men want to tell Pastor Driver directly, but their wives won't let them. Some want to send him a note, but that has been called cowardly by others. One un-named member has posted about this on his blog in the hope that the pastor will see it, but so far this has not happened.
As of this writing, the church body was still divided on what to do. They have, however, at least all agreed that something has to be done.
Mr. Simmons summed up the situation this way, "We just have to do something. We're getting to the point of not even wanting to go to church. And this coming Sunday, Pastor Driver is going to be preaching on Mark 10:45. That verse tells us, 'the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.' I just don't know if I'll be able to make it through that sermon. The pastor's record number of times saying his phrase is 47 in one sermon, but I'm afraid he'll break 50 this Sunday."