By Paul Koch –
Once a month, all my colleagues get together for a regular meeting of all the pastors in our circuit. We sit around and talk shop over coffee and breakfast type foods. We undertake some sort of theological study and catch up on any important news from our district (though it’s never as important as they think). Yet the pinnacle moment of our time together and the thing I enjoy the most is worship. That’s right, we gather together to receive the Word and Sacraments of our Lord, and it is something I cherish.
Truth be told, I enjoy it because I don’t get to go to church that often. I don’t know what it is like to sit in the pew and be preached to, week in and week out. My mind is usually filled with hundreds of other things on a Sunday morning. The family that showed up out of nowhere, the recent members who have been absent for the last few weeks, the lady who asked if she could speak with me after the service. Amid performing the Word in the sermon and presiding over the liturgy, I seem to be moving from one thing to another without much time to actually sit and receive much of anything. But that changes on the second Tuesday of every month as I gather with my colleagues.
This past Tuesday was especially surreal. For the sermon preached for our worship service was one of my own—not just one I liked, but actually my sermon. My good friend Tim had taken my sermon posted here a few weeks ago and repackaged it for our gathering. It took a few moments for it to set in, and no one else there knew what was happening. But I knew where he was going before he went there. It wasn’t verbatim my sermon, but it was pretty darn close; the same turns of phrase, the same dominate images, the same overall focus. Yet it was a totally different sermon, for it was being preached to me and not from my mouth to others.
Now where this goes from being a bit weird to something a bit brilliant is when you understand the preaching style of both myself and Tim. I typically preach without notes or visual images or outlines for the congregation to follow along with. I continue to work hard on the craft of rhetoric to become better at preaching without what I (unfairly) call crutches. Tim, on the other hand, has preached for most of his career with the use and integration of multimedia. He has a knack for using images to carry ideas and has worked hard to develop a style of preaching that is engaging and lasting.
The conversation over tacos and drinks afterwards was about how the medium affected the message. How did the use of the images change what was being said, how could these tools shape what we are doing? This is what was brilliant about what Tim did. It forced a conversation about preaching itself, about how one goes about doing the task our Lord has sent us to do. Just how does one kill and bring forth new life through proclamation? And when we set out to do it, should we use all the tools at our disposal? Should we avoid some? What are the consequences of introducing such tools, when are the helpful, when are the distracting?
What was so great about all this is the simple fact that we were actually talking about preaching. It felt good to have such discussion. For this is what really matters. Far more than any bureaucratic endeavor or some new program at this or that congregation. The topic of what is being preached and how it is being preached is the most exciting and fruitful discussion any pastor can have. And far too often it is the one conversation that is not being had.
I know that sounds crazy, but it is true. Pastor will readily speak about just about any topic but this one, especially if it calls for critical examination of what they are doing.
We must be open to critique and we must offer critique with joy and support. We must never settle for what is simply comfortable and routine. Socrates famously said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Perhaps we might say the unexamined preacher is not worth hearing.
We just might discover what I did. That my old and dry words can take on a new life for a moment as the living Word continues to do His work.