Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Foolishness of Preaching

Another coffee shop conversation. When I’m out of my turf, I find the questions are more honest and the conversations more challenging. He asked me “So what do you do as a preacher since today’s generation learns differently?” I asked him to elaborate.

It was a familiar riff – today’s generation is multisensory, they can’t sit through an extended sermon, they prefer two way to one way conversation. He admitted that his mind wandered off during sermons. Instead of attending a traditional church, he and his wife met once a week with 10 or 12 other couples (“Oh, you mean you do a house church?” I asked. “Yeah, I guess,” he replied with a sheepish shrug “but I really hate that term. I’d rather call it a bible study.” I understood immediately – house church has become in some circles a gimmick, a trick, a way to be on the cutting edge. My friend is no hipster riding a wave – he and his bible study friends are serious in their commitment to Christ and each other – their fellowship is no gimmick. George Barna talks about these kind of folks in his new book Faith Revolutionaries – read Phil Cooke’s summary and take)

These critiques are nothing new – I read this in all the renewal/church development literature. I read this in the emergent church chatterboxes. Even so, I’m not terribly bothered by it. Nor am I threatened by folks going to house churches. Most of the house church folks I know are passionate for Jesus, committed to the scriptures in a way that “traditional church” Christians are not, and excited about serving the community and one another. Yet this is not a post about the house church movement – it is a post explaining why I’ve not given up on preaching.

Preaching is foolishness – why should I expect anyone to me? I’ll let you in on a secret – I don’t have whatever it is that they’re looking for when they gather on Sundays with their faces, young and old, peering up at me with expectation. Any preacher worth the pennies in his pocket will admit he doesn’t have it. My well of cleverness is shallow and muddy. Few preachers are actually gifted speakers. We are not shiny teeth Guy Smiley motivational speaker clones. We are quirky eccentrics aspiring to be the epic poets of our people. We are klutzy draughtsmen of language aspiring to be troubadour poets for the great king.

God seems to enjoy using foolish oddballs to proclaim His foolish message. Indeed, He orders it so that this company of quirky elders will be the vehicle through which the message is proclaimed. Calvin tells us in Volume 4, chapter 3 of his Institutes that God has ordered the church under care of pastors and teachers not because these people are worthy enough, but because they are the means of structure and continuity in the church: “this human ministry which God uses to govern the church is the chief sinew by which believers are held together in one body. He then also shows that the church can be kept intact only if it be upheld by the safeguards in which it pleased the Lord to place its salvation.” I know that Calvin is not the authoritative word of God – but this seems like a pretty sound application of Ephesians 4 and I Corinthians 12.

Here’s where this applies to preaching – all these leaders, quirky and odd though they are, have been sent to proclaim – not to converse. Conversation is give and take, you share a little, I share a little. We each shape the other. Preaching is proclamation -- pointing to the foundational truths of faith. Preaching states “Here I stand, I can do no else.” Conversation and give and take have their place in the congregation – the Holy Sprit does use such conversation. But scripture presents proclamation, whether to a crowd of three thousand or a congregation of one, as the primary way the Spirit moves to grip hearts and bring sinners to repentance. Of course preaching must be informed by conversation, infused with emotion, shaped by contemporary concerns, and delivered through personality – but at it’s heart is something not negotiated, but proclaimed.

Given that foolishness of methodology and knowing my own inadequacy – I’m driven to prayer and dependence upon the Holy Spirit more than ever. I may work the fields and water the seeds, but it is God alone who will grant the growth.

If you’ve stayed with me this long, you must be interested in the topic – check out David Wayne’s great post along these same lines – he reminds us that even in some of the most pagan cities in the country, God is raising up preachers that attract thousands of young Gen X and Gen Y types to listen to hour long sermons. His post is well worth the read.

Soli Deo Gloria