Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Few Good Licks

“What do you do when you’re preaching and forget what you’re saying?” Admit it, unless you operate from a manuscript where nothing is left to chance, you’ve been there, done that! Easy. “You keep talking until you remember.” Thank you Dr. Puckett for the pithy retort.
Proclamation is at the heart of our calling if we are “called” to preach. I, for one, didn’t volunteer for the job, I was drafted. Of course, I was a little biased against it because I couldn’t separate preaching from pastoring. My Dad was a pastor of the garden variety, not to be confused with the “TV pastor”. For all of his shortcomings he could be sharp as a tack. I recall his response to the belittling comparison between the two: “When you end up in the hospital, call your TV pastor to come and pray for you.” Dad would show up anyway. As hard as he worked at preaching, he was a pastor at heart and he paid for it. Because we paid along with him, I wanted no part of preaching as a vocation. Like a notice from the Selective Service Board, there were only two options: show up for duty or flee to Nineveh. Not liking the idea of submarine duty with seaweed for a blanket, I showed up.
Now it’s called a disorder: obsessive. When I yielded to the “call” I thought it was a passion for excellence. If I’m going to do it I want to be the best be it softball, racquetball, golf or preaching. How? Study the best. Learn from the best. That was 1974. If you do the math, next year will make it 40 years ago. If you’ve been paying attention for the last 40 years you will have recognized that what was called great preaching then no longer is. Among the books that I acquired from Dr. Puckett were several entitled, “The History of Preaching”. Why a history? Obviously someone has done their homework and realized that public proclamation has been an ever changing process not to be confused with fashion trending.
What has evokes these reflections are those ever-endearing words, “Pastor, I’m looking for someone who is deeper in their preaching.” After 40 years, I confess, my grace is wearing thin in places. I have to remind myself to not argue with a fool, lest I be thought foolish. Historically speaking, the most successful evangelical churches 40 years ago were built around expository preaching. W. A. Criswell, while at FBC Dallas, spent 17 years preaching verse-by-verse through the Bible. Worship services were for believers. Evangelism took place at other times and places. The largest evangelical churches today have been born since then with decidedly different preaching styles. This is not an assessment or critique of either, merely a summary of fact.
I spend a lot of time in sermon preparation. I want to know what the historical context is and the meaning of the ancient languages because I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and the historical/critical method of interpretation. That is not my biggest challenge. Contextualizing the truth of Scripture for the purpose of effective communication is. Because my church exists to reach the unchurched and has effectively been doing so for 20 years, over half of those in attendance may not be in a committed relationship with Christ. How do you feed sheep and goats at the same time? Creatively! Who has the obligation to adapt for the purpose of the Kingdom? Believers. Paul became “all things to all men that by all possible means he might save some”. His preaching was contextually relevant and theologically sound. Please don’t get me started on the preaching of Jesus....
Suffice it to say that we can’t please all of the people all of the time or some of the people any of the time. Given the cultural challenge of how much time anyone gives us to speak the truth in love and the fact that those without Christ don’t owe us the time of the day, what sort of preachers ought we to be? Those who are hyper-critical because they are so spiritually advanced need to get off of the bench and into the game. A few good licks to the head might give them a greater appreciation for the veterans in the game.