The story is almost always the same. He stands up to the podium or away from the pulpit. (Because, let's be honest, no one uses that ol' thing anymore.) Perhaps he keeps notes in front or perhaps he is carrying nothing but a bible. He begins to deliver his sermon. There is always something grand about the message. Perhaps it's humour. Perhaps it's passion. Perhaps it's anger. No matter what it is, it always causes me to put my head in my hands and groan. With all their theatrics they typically do one of two things. One, they repeat the same simple message six times until they have filled up a good 20 minutes of worship. Two, they slowly read out the scripture; stopping only to add something. Usually they are adding an irrelevant side note to bring the message into relatable terms. (I don't need to imagine a parable character owning a car in order to understand what the scripture is about.) In conclusion, they all spend 20 minutes saying something that could have been easily explained in 5 minutes. They are all show and no substance.
But congregants love it. Every once in a while I hear one of them say, "Wow, that was inspired!"
That word you use. I don't think it means what you think it means. It appears there is a disconnect with extemporaneous, or off the cuff preaching, and inspired preaching. Yes, I have felt the spirit come upon me as I have had an off the cuff moment with a group of people. Those "off the cuff" moments happen outside the 11am worship, and are laced with the education I have spent years gathering. (In and out of seminary.) Education to a preaching minister is like balls to a juggler, a top hat to a magician, or a saw and hammer to a carpenter. In other words, God can call anyone to ministry, but getting to the point where one uses ministry is a journey. It not only requires picking up the tool bag (an education) but also using those tools appropriately to help. (Instead of maim.)
When Jesus first started calling the Disciples in Matthew 4:18-22, we see one doesn't have to be the creme de la creme. When we see Peter and Andrew; James and John we see fishermen. At most, these four would have only known how to read, and only read enough to know basic information pertinent to their trade. Forget writing, it was worthless to getting food on the table every night. It is believed Peter would eventually write two books of the bible. That had to happen somewhere. Then, later in Acts, we have Paul. Paul was a bad guy. He captured Christians and sent them to the Coliseum. Yet this bad guy was called to help several communities understand the very people he collected for death. God can call anyone, but God doesn't want us to stay in the life we are called from.
Peter and Paul, did not begin their apostolic work through magic knowledge being osmosisly transmitted into their brains. Zealous Peter had to have some very embarrassing moments with Jesus first, unlearning and relearning what it meant to be a follower of God. Paul was already educated, but not in the right way. Even with Paul's sudden Road to Damascus story, he still had to learn the story of Christ. (Also, could you imagine what those letters would have been like if he spent the entire thing saying the same point 20 times to fill up the required amount of parchment to make the community happy. Would we really take him seriously today?)
But there's the tension. We are stuck between a community who likes a show, and message that deserves real research and focus. Now, it appears, our God moments have to come every Sunday at 9:45am and then again at 11am. We have to have flashy themes and shining lights. It's boring for the minister to speak for a full hour, so let's fill the time with tunes that really don't say anything either.
The point: If we were honest with one another, when ministers enter seminary, it should feel like redundant information. Our Christian Education in church should be honest and real. Instead, many congregations shun and ostracize the minister who wants to educate, and glorify and praise the minister who wants to put on a good show. In my lifetime, the ministers who could properly educate and engage the congregation is really few and far between. Rev. Cynthia Hale comes to mind as an exceptional minister who can do both. Fred Craddock would be another. The tension is, we have to engage while keeping our focus on the point: education. It's a real tension to keep in mind. Taking the journey in Christ is a learning experience that isn't always glitzy and glamourous. We might get a little zealous for our own good. We could possibly deny Christ a time or two. In the end we realize we are not the focus. Once we are educated the focus becomes the generation to come. Therefore, we must realize the world around us is preaching false easy fixes, while we should be preaching real time consuming change. This new generation can read B.S. like it's Shakespeare play. At the same time, they won't give anything time of day unless it is branded honestly and with flashing lights. There it is. Now isn't that tension?
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