Thursday, May 04, 2006

Called to preach?

I remember where I was when I first felt called to preach and how old. I was in Liverpool in my early teens. Life, as they say, has never been the same since: it has been one of constant frustration.

I hoped, naievly, that once ordained I would be able to devote myself to preaching and teaching. The problem is, of course, that once you are ordained you soon discover that there are so many other things that you have to devote yourself to so that you don't have the time or energy to prepare for preaching and teaching. Secondly, congregations don't particularly want preaching and teaching anyway. They want entertainment. They don't mind speakers who tell jokes and amuse with some simple thoughts thrown in, but sustained exposition of a passage with a wrestling of what it means for today is just not on anyone's wishlist.

To be a succesful speaker today you need to be reasonably good looking, tell jokes, know how to keep it simple and short, and be able to convince people that you know more than you do. This last point makes the congregation think you are an expert and relieves them of any responsibility to think for themselves.

Naturally enough, those of us who preach want people to want to listen and so the temptation to give people what they want to hear is very great. I know we need to become all things to all people, but surely this is so that what we have to say becomes easier for them to understand. What happens if they don't want to understand it?

Maybe we preachers just have to accept that there is a declining market for serious thinking and teaching amongst the majority in our congregations and be thankful for those few who still want to work hard to study the word of God together.

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