By Paul Koch –
Many years ago, when I first began my career as a preacher, a trusted colleague of mine remarked that I had a unique gift for slaughtering sacred cows. To be honest I had no idea that I was doing any such thing (or really what that even meant). The reality is; I have always felt that I’m somewhat of an outsider even within my own church body and so I’ve unwittingly done things that those “in the know” would never do. I can get all worked up by the smell of the BBQ that I start hacking up ole Bessie before I realize what she means to those around me.
Neal Boortz used to say that he turned “a nasty personality disorder into a lucrative career,” and in that vein I’ve just decided to run with my own idiosyncratic issues as see what I can make of them. The beautiful thing is that I’ve found I’m not as alone or unique as I once thought (just read any of the other contributors to The Jagged Word and you’ll see what I mean). For just as there is a desire by many to protect Bessie from the slaughterhouse so I have found there are many who wonder how she would smell on the grill.
So it is with great joy (at least for those who like a good BBQ) that I report to you that I have stumbled upon what may very well be the most sacred of sacred cows in the church today. It is the one thing we are supposed to leave alone, the one thing that should never be questioned and discussed in any public manner, the one thing that is just to be revered as holy and untouchable, and it is quite simply that actual preaching and teaching of any given pastor.
At a gathering of pastors last Tuesday I saw this elusive heifer as clear as day. We were discussing articles 7 and 8 of the Augsburg Confession which deal with the Church, and we began a good dialogue about unity. The discussion began with the outward forms of things. Smells and bells vs praise bands, high church vs low church, robes vs polo shirts, blah, blah, blah, you know the drill. But it always seemed (naturally?) to drift toward preaching and teaching. And every time it did everyone would get real uncomfortable and suddenly shift away to some other outward thing.
In other words instead of having any sort of serious discussion on the state of preaching in our pulpits today we were only supposed to talk about cliché riddled old arguments that really don’t matter. We are supposed to operate always under the assumption that the preaching and teaching of any pastor is good, right and salutary. This means that the only thing we can talk about, the only thing that can even be discussed with regard to unity is the outward forms – It’s all we have left.
The reason I think we need to drag this cow out into the light of day is not to go on some sort of witch-hunt against bad preachers. Rather, this sacred cow needs to go down so that pastors might be encouraged to be honest with themselves. As long as this one lives we will only look toward those outward forms for any means of “success” in the ministry. “Maybe I need a praise band, or screens in the church if I want to connect with today’s youth. Or perhaps we should chant more or give incense a try to help create that experience of the sacred and holy that so many are looking for.” But all of this misses the mark, its sends us off as beggars to the next best idea for ministry instead dealing with the very thing that creates, sustains and drives the ministry – the Word which is proclaimed!
“For this is enough for the true unity of the Christian church that there the gospel is preached harmoniously according to a pure understanding and the sacraments are administered in conformity with the divine Word” – AC VII (2)
It’s time to get out the butcher knives and fire up the grill. Let’s talk about what is actually being preached, not just assumed but actually being spoken. Let’s encourage our pastors to be craftsmen in their vocation, always seeking to hone their skills. Let’s care more about the proclamation of the Word than worn out old debates over questions no one is even asking anymore!
It’s time to get to work; I’ll take mine medium-rare.