Two adventurers were soaring moving along in a hot air balloon, when the scenery became unfamiliar; the flyers realized they were lost. Looking below, they spied a man in a yard. One of the two suggested they descend a bit and ask the man for information about their location. One of the flyers yelled at the man ‘Where are we?”
Came the reply, “You are in a hot-air balloon about 100 feet in the air.” The second man observed, “That man is a preacher.” When asked how he could discern that, he replied, “Every thing he said is true, but it doesn’t help us any.”
The above was in my inbox this morning. It was in a comment in a discussion on one of the email lists I lurk on. I snipped it from its context to make a point or two about preaching, since I’ve been doing more of it lately.
I’ve blogged before about what makes for good preaching and teaching (here and here), and now I’m having to follow my own advice. I’m finishing Romans by teaching through a pericope (about a chapter or so) in the morning class and then announcing its message in the morning sermon. Sunday evenings I am preaching through Galatians since it complements Romans. My task in the class is to do a class well (which for me means historical-critical exegesis). My task in the sermon, while assuming all of what has been explored in the class and not rehashing it, is to preach the message of the text in order to shape the church. I’ve come to really like the approach since I must clarify what the class should be over against what a sermon should be, and then implement the best strategies for the class and the sermon. Obviously, given my training and disposition, it is heavily text-centered (when I teach from Romans I stay in Romans and I don’t hop and skip hither and yon across the canon).
What makes my task easier is the dozen or so years Laura and I have invested at Central Church. Relational capital makes for easier preaching. Sharing life over time builds relationships. Since I envision preaching more as ‘thinking with the church’ rather than thinking for the church or preaching at the church, those relationships put me at ease when I stand up to hold forth. I characterize Central as an open-Bible church, quite eager to hear the word taught and preached, and always welcoming the best effort of her teachers and preachers. There is a temptation on my part, though, to reduce the historical, grammatical and biblical insights to truisms that do not truly shape the church. An eager disposition to Bible study on the congregation’s part can backfire when it remains content to learn content while resisting the change that the text continually calls us to.
In other words, I would hope that my preaching is not a declaration of truisms but a holding forth of the word for the sake of the church to shape the church and point the church to God. And I hope the expectations of the church are not low enough so as to be satisfied with truisms that do not further us along the path of righteousness, justice, peace and mercy. And I hope that a decade of warm relationships do not cloud my task, or stop up our ears as we, as church, think together through Scripture when we assemble.