Word of the Week

Can Anyone Preach?

Over the course of the December holidays had several opportunities to be in worship settings that I would not have attended if I knew what was going to be said . . .  

In these settings, I heard words come from the pulpit like:

Quoting Isaiah 9:6: "We hear that Jesus is the Counselor. Now this word comes from the word, counsel. Now this makes me think of a school counselor. What do you do with a school counselor? You go and talk about your problems. In the same way you can talk to Jesus about all your problems. . . ."

Or . . .

"Christmas is the time when we all should get saved and tell all our friends that they need to get saved too."

Or . . .

"When the time came for Jesus to be born, the world should have known this. Condemn those who didn't get on their knees and worship like the shepherds did."

Being a listener in the pew, bearing through these words made me ponder once again the question of: "Can anyone preach?"

At its heart, preaching is testimony.

(And anyone can tell what God has done for them; anyone can have an experience with a text)

Preaching is proclaiming truth of the gospel.

(This is always up for debate about what truth actually based on our various theological bents)

It is a about a personal experience with a text, that hopefully is also informed by the tradition of church history and theological scholarship.

(This one requires a few more moments to pause and hopefully a background in theology-- whether in seminary or through Christian education in the church)

So, yes, preaching is not always just for the pastor. I am a believer in the power of lay preaching and would love to have even more trained lay preachers at Washington Plaza to fill in if I was away unexpectedly.

But, the problem with the pulpits I most recently sat under was not who was preaching (for they were pastors), but the expectations placed on the preaching.

I could have been either of these preachers (who said the horrible things I just mentioned) because they were just talking it seemed out of a vocabulary of "canned phrases" that they had heard before or even taught. It was like they were making it up as they spoke from their well of the past.

Where was the scholarship? Where was the meaning? Where was the awe for the responsiblity of bringing a fresh word to God's people?

Who am I to judge, though? I recognize I might be overstepping my bounds here.

But, coming from the perspective of someone who sat under the preaching and teaching of evangelical theology for most of my growing up years, now it is hard for me to be around it. The words that come out of this type of preaching just don't make sense. And, to stick with the message of "get on board with Jesus theology which means= if you pray the sinner's prayer you are in and if you don't you are out and not going to heaven" real damage is done to the Christian story, I feel.  Is being a Christian all about going to heaven when you die? It is easy to think that this might be all there is to it . . .

So, can anyone preach? Yes, of course. It is a free country. Thank God for our religious liberty.

But, should everyone preach? No.

The more I preach regularly, the more I realize what a holy privilege my work in the pulpit is. I know not to enter into the pulpit lightly. I know not to "wing it" by clinging to the faith that worked for me in childhood. It is a serious task that calls me each week to be serious in my study, in my quiet time to prepare, and in my pursuit of God that is always an unfinished work. It is through my preaching that I get to know the God to whom our faith clings better each week. And, then I get to share the word with the congregation, hoping it will be of some use to them as well.

My prayer for the preachers that made me cringe is that they too would be open to the experience of the newness of God in their life too. So maybe one day that well stated meaningless phrases will be no more, and the beauty of the messy walk of faith will spring forth from both the pulpit and the pew.