We all use the soapbox. Given the current Election Cycle we hear many on their soapbox. Preachers are no exception.
Last Fall I participated in a speaking event.
Preachers and Their Listeners
Preaching Lab served as my last course on preaching. We were required to present a sermon to be critiqued by our peers and the professor. Most of us had not spent much time preaching week in and week out. The idea of putting yourself out there for criticism was intimidating.
Over time we preachers get better, we hope. Most parishioners do not listen for the same things other preachers and professors do. But, we certainly hope we communicate well. Our fragile egos make it unlikely we could handle the same sort of evaluation week in and week out as our listeners file out the back door.
We really need to give permission for some in our congregations to help us lest we think we get it right week in and week out. I know, be careful for what you ask. Recently our youth did a skit about attending our church. They gave a list of the things you need. One was a dictionary. Oops.
Over the years I admit to struggling with this aspect of speaking. Our listeners deserve us to pay attention. I have often referred to the little book, Pew Rights. Van Harn challenges preachers, speakers, that listeners have rights and one is to understand.
Knowing it had been some time since I put myself out there for critique to strangers, I signed up for the event. We were to prepare a 10-minute talk. We would then be critiqued and encouraged. Most of us were hoping for a bigger dose of encouragement.
Protesting the System
The use of Powerpoint and fill-in-the-blank listening sheets became a trend not long after I began preaching week in and week out. The two little churches I pastored early on did not have the money to secure the technology. And, the courses on preaching I had taken did not emphasize using multimedia tools. I guess that made me a luddite preacher.
Reading the likes of Calvin Miller’s, The Singer Trilogy, opened up the world of imagery and story-telling as a means to communicate rather than images and fill-in-the-blanks. It is an art that takes a long time developing, especially when preaching courses emphasized rhetoric and a rigid structure. I still think in terms of those patterns, even as I try to grow beyond them.
One of the popular elements I inadvertently protested, and still protest, is preaching for pragmatism. What I mean by that is, popular preaching in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s came with a numerical list of things that if done correctly would make you a better parent, husband, employee, etc. The problem is transformation does not come about by managing our passions and overcoming our tendencies. Transformation comes when we learn we cannot manage our baser issues but instead need to learn new patterns of being and doing. I cannot escape Dallas Willard’s influence here.
We found may young people coming to our church looking for someone to tell them how. There was little interest in what kind of person to become. The aim was how do I manage what I am to achieve. New creation refers to what sort of person, not how well you manage your downside.
For me, preaching, speaking, is a means to protest a system that keeps people looking at life through a pragmatic lens.
You Be the Judge
My 10-minute talk, in front of mostly strangers, and not in a church, followed the trajectory of protest. Walter Brueggemann wrote a little book, The Word that Redescribed the World. He references a baptismal community. Recently David Fitch points to a eucharistic community. If we have the option to choose a word that helps convey possibility, I like protest. The baptism of Jesus by John and the initiation of the eucharist are protest movements of Jesus and the disciples community.
Mark tells the story of Jesus in his gospel as one of protest. Jesus protests the social structure, the political system, and the religious framework of his day. We need more of the same.
So, here in my talk, I suggest we opt for homelessness, at least the posture of homelessness to protest the system. We could read the writer of Hebrews who described Abraham’s wondering as a stranger looking for a home whose builder and architect is God. Enter Jesus. The homeless, dead Jew, raised from the dead, presents us with a vision of the way the world may become new.
You be the judge if the theme communicates.