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Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Preacher's Frustration

Our associate pastor preached on Christmas Eve and she did a really fantastic job.  She dealt with many of the issues on people's minds.  She gave sufficient "good news" (translate: something to feel good, happy about).  But she did not ignore the reality that our country has dealt with tragedy over the past 10 days (school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut).  I was proud of her.  And I was relieved because I had grown tired of my own preaching this Advent.

In past years, from November through year's end has found me asking associate pastors to take the pulpit because of my own fatigue.  This year was different.  I was energized by my studied in Job and I was fired up to study and then preach the Old Testament prophets (this year's lectionary Advent readings).  I really wanted to preach. 

My failure was twofold.  I failed to account for how much our church needed to smile.  The church needed to be prompted to praise and rejoicing.  And I didn't do my part as preacher and pastor in facilitating this.  My second failure was a failure of creativity.  And this is where my frustration comes in.

I don't for one second regret 8 weeks in Job.  People who rarely comment on sermons contacted me to tell me what a blessing it was.  However, Job is full of dark themes.  So too are are prophets.  Zephaniah prophesied against a backdrop of indifference and apostasy.  Micah faced a populace with rampant injustice.  And darkness covered over us as we gathered for worship each Sunday.  The presidential race was impossibly negative and it left many with a feeling of dissatisfaction.  War rages in Syria.  Our troops linger on in Afghanistan.  And then there was the Sandy Hook Horror.

In short, much darkness covered the people in the pews.  And the scriptures dealt with dark themes.  To be honest as a pastor, true to the needs of the people and true to the themes of scripture, required dealing in dark themes.  This was true in spite of the cheer and joy of Christmas.  My utter failure of creativity was my inability to deal with the dark themes and at the same time lead the church to praise and joy.  Our associate pastor accomplished this on Christmas Eve, but I struggled with it throughout Advent.

I am frustrated with myself.  And frustrated with the times.  I am just a little frustrated with listeners who require such a homiletic effort.  But that last frustration is unfair.  Preaching is hard work and for me to think it should come easy is to attempt to rob preaching of its dignity and importance. 

So where do I go?  First, back to prayer and I have begun work on this.  I need to reconnect with God.  I go to study.  I don't say "go back" to study because study is one thing I have done pretty consistently.  Study has almost, for me, become an idol.  I have done too much to the neglect of other necessary steps in preaching (exegesis of text, exegesis of congregation being two).  And finally, I go relationships.  I must refocus on relationships in the church and relationships with people who are not in ours or in any church.  This is especially true considering our upcoming emphasis on evangelism.

All of this said, there is no quick or easy answer.  If there were, it wouldn't frustrating!  But, as I said, preaching is dignified, important, and hard.  Success only comes with God's help.  Through training and discipline, one can become an accomplished orator, of course.  But preaching is not the same thing as being good at public speaking.  Preaching is bring people and God (God in the word, and God the Spirit) together in a way that they (the people) cannot possibly avoid in the encounter.  When defined that way, preaching is extremely hard.  It is work I feel called to and work I feel privileged to do.  Even when it is frustrating.

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