aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

The problem with preachers

I am a church orphan. My parents stomped out of our home church when I was turning eleven. I drifted along without a commitment of my own until I was in college. Even after accepting Christ as my Savior, I didn't have a church home until after I got married. About the time I was turning twenty-one, I was finally confirmed, just before going off to seminary.

One of the things peculiar to my call, therefore, is that I didn't have a model to take after. Nor did I feel comfortable in the preacher modes I saw demonstrated to me. Try as I might, I could never be the preacherish kind of preacher that people were expecting. I took some lumps for that, but I also had some opportunities -- successes, even -- that other clergy might not have.

So I don't preach like a lot of other clergy. The persona I project is not very preacherish. And early on, I decided that certain things that preachers often do, certain patterns they fall into, weren't what I wanted to do. I found it easy to denounce things from the pulpit -- sin, injustice, whatnot -- but I quickly decided that while that felt good to me, it wasn't doing much good in my parishioners. I decided that I would try to describe what life in Christ -- and life in heaven -- should be like, could be like. Instead of applying the goad to drive the herd along the trail, I would rather try to draw the sheep after me to greener pastures. I tried to lift people up, to affirm and encourage, to notice the good things. I also attempted to describe the very real struggles that people have -- not as victims of some oppressor external to themselves, as poster children for some preferred social policy or customers for some ready-made spiritual experience, but as people who are often afraid, often perplexed, often in conflict with themselves: people who are all tangled up in things and unable to break free. And I would try to tell them how Jesus could set them free, and how good that would feel. That it was possible; we could do it -- together.

I notice that many of my colleagues who absorbed the preacher persona, who were bred to it in a childhood and youth spent in church, I guess, continue to denounce sin in the same old, indignant way. Except today, their usual idea of sin is some social class or political leader or ideology. They keep the revivalist mode of hectoring the sinners, even if their definition of sinners has changed. They blame and they shame. They use their considerable rhetorical skills to talk about how awful somebody else is, and they beat people over the head with (selected verses of) the Bible. I think this is a vanity and a striving after wind.

I dislike sanctimony. I cringe at unctuousness. I abhor manipulation of others, emotional or political. I agree with Paul, who said, "we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways" (2 Cor. 4:2). And I also agree with James, who said, "the anger of men does not work the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). I admit that some of my colleagues whose mode of discourse turns me off may be six times holier than I'll ever be, but I still don't want to follow their example. I remain still, after forty-some years, a very un-preacherish preacher.

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