(Say the Jesus Creed morning and evening during Lent.)
Here is a letter from a reader from a post a week or so ago; the letter is used with permission. Read it to the end because he is asking a question that many are asking today: What is preaching? What good is it? He needs some advice and I’m confident many of you have things that can help him. Pray for him too. I have.
Scot (Dr. McKnight),
I’m a 30-something minister in transition and I was really struck by your post “Pastors thinking pastorally for pastors” on February 4. This letter started as a response ? and then I decided it was getting too long and self-indulgent, so I didn’t post. I tried to pare back my questions/comments, but was pretty overcome by emotion, and had to stop and spend a lot of time in prayer. Because I had so much stuff churning around in me, I finally started my own blog to siphon off some of the excess so I could focus. I’m still churning though ? there’s so much I feel I need to know (and be, and do), such a ?yearning?but I don’t know what to do with it all.
I suppose the biggest change in my perspective has been the shift from “minister” to “pastor.” That’s a semantic difference in a way – but it ties into a couple things for me. I’m from a Baptist background where “pastor” meant (only and always) “preacher” and was used interchangeably. Plus, I saw what I consider to be abuses of power and pastoral authority so pervasive that I didn’t want to claim any pastoral authority. And, my experience as a summer missionary, where I preached 3-4x a week for 10 weeks, left me with some distaste for preaching. I found myself constantly looking up passages of Scripture, not for devotional reasons or to let God speak, but to have something to say. It felt, at the time, like I was going through the motions – not waiting on God to speak to me, but scrambling for something to say that *sounded* like it was from God.
I suppose this is a cry for help. As a result of the above (and other things), I went to seminary “knowing” I wasn’t called to preach, whatever else I was meant to do. I was a “minister” not a “preacher” or “pastor.” While I was in seminary, I wasn’t interested in preaching. My preaching professor was one of the holiest and most graceful persons I’ve met ? he carries an aura of sanctity with him ? and he was extremely gracious to me when I was in his class, despite my being the only one there asking questions about why we preach, what we intend to accomplish, why our preaching is so different from Jesus’ or Paul’s, and why so many of our texts for preaching were so terrible. (Not all of them were ? Kathleen Norris and Barbara Brown Taylor and Fred Craddock were good.) But while I got to ask my questions without penalty, I didn’t get them answered. You were just supposed to know what preaching is for and why it’s important ? it didn’t matter if preaching left your listeners cold or asleep, just be faithful.
What is preaching? Who is it for? How do we learn to do it? How do we judge if we’re doing it well?
I assume you learn by doing and that’s my goal. But if there’s any advice you can share, any books that you can recommend as absolutely foundational stuff? None of the three books you mentioned in the post are available to me right now, but our public library’s pretty good. I don’t know entirely what I’m asking. Just ? for help, I guess. I wish pastors had pastors. I wish spiritual directors didn’t have to be paid to help a fellow Christian discern God’s voice. (The worker deserves their wages ? but I can’t afford ’em right now, and my spiritual director’s only able to schedule about 1-2 meetings a year with me, and is generally a month or more getting back to me to schedule an appointment. Seems like spiritual direction ought to be a primary function of pastors.)
I’m impressed with the readership of your blog and would have welcomed their advice too. Anybody’s …. Just breathe a word of prayer, and keep up your blog, and I’ll be grateful. Do say that word of prayer, though.
Blessings to you and yours,