Faith Works 1-17-15
Why a preacher?
Last week, I invited you to think through the question with me "why a pastor?"
What you may or may not think of as much the same thing is "why a preacher?"
Preacher, parson, reverend, padre, pastor are all ways of referring to the role I was talking about last week. You may hear "preacher man" but of course in many, even most traditions today, the ministerial role may be fulfilled by a preacher woman – my own denomination has long had women in ministry, and it was a lady Rev. who baptized and married my mother, so it's in my DNA of ministry images that women can serve in that central role of Christian leadership.
Preaching, public speaking in church, is an area that women in ministry have entered, and felt resistance in: we're not far from an era when the power of the voice was all that got a message to the back rows, and men were the assumed voice of authority in the culture as well as in church.
To be a preacher, though, is at essence to be a storyteller, and there are many means and modes in which to tell stories. Loud and overwhelming isn't the only way, not even always the best way, to take a tale and tell it to a gathering of hearers. So women in preaching has helped, I think, to expand everyone's understandings of ministry for many different approaches, not just genders.
Why, though, do we need preachers as part of what faith communities do? Is preaching to tell people what to do, or how to live? Can you do what religious folk call worship without preaching?
As a Christian pastor, I have a story to tell. The story of God's promises fulfilled and will revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is my story. It can be your story, too, and basically my job each week is . . . to tell the same story, again and again, so all may hear and know and understand and believe.
In other words, I tell the same story every week, every occasion for worship. No, really, that's what I do.
And I think most preachers in the Christian community would admit, with varying degrees of ruefulness, that we're just telling the same old, old story over and over and over again.
You can see where that takes some special skills – just to make the gospel story fresh and new and making sense in today's context (sometimes referred to as "keeping it relevant"). Some preachers are short and succinct, and others are out of an expository tradition where a longer, more methodical presentation of the Bible version of the gospel is the norm. So sermons may be more of a homily, five minutes or so in length; I grew up in a church where a thirty minute sermon was considered standard, twenty-five minutes being a gift for which everyone gave thanks at Sunday dinner. And our local history tells of preachers in the 1800s who were praised and honored for their ninety minute to three hour long sermons.
Seriously. (They didn't have anything else to entertain them, you might say uncharitably.)
I am generally what's called a "lectionary preacher," which is a three year cycle of the Christian Bible, Old and New Testaments, that many church bodies share together as a pattern for worship and sermons. Since the first Sunday of Advent last month, we've been in Year B of that cycle, with an emphasis this lectionary year on Mark's Gospel, A going with Matthew, C with Luke, and John's (the Fourth) Gospel sifted through all three, especially around Christmas and Easter.
But last year I took a different approach for a congregational effort to read the Bible together in a chronological approach, and left the lectionary behind. It's a guideline, but a good one; in general, the lectionary keeps me from just preaching on my favorite three or thirty passages, and not getting out into some of the wider expanses of Bible reading and preaching.
Can the laity, "lay members," non-ordained, not seminary trained people, preach out of scripture and tell the stories of the Bible in an illuminative way for the congregation? Sure they can, but it helps to have a solid educated grounding in what the Bible is saying, so we can re-tell those stories in an inviting, converting, transforming way.
Have you ever preached a sermon? Have you ever wanted to?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about preaching has changed your life at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.