Being in a better place and feeling more comfortable with transparency, it feels safer to share now–acknowledging that there’s still times I entertain these feelings… and believing, as I do, that these thoughts and feelings convey at least some of the reason(s) behind over 1,700 fellow pastors who left the ministry last year (every month!).
At the expense of it not sounding right in places, I have left its construction as raw as the day I saved it…
Admittedly, there are ways I feel stung.
Talk of reform around here has had a way of targeting me, directly and indirectly.
They say the instinctual options are “fight or flee.” I don’t want to do either: I want to stay in loving, yet truthful relationship. That’s where Christian integrity is, for me: staying in touch and yet being who I am.
Among the things that stings is talk, feedback about sermons… and how they, as worship in general, should leave us feeling better. “We don’t need to come out of worship with one more thing we need to do!” is a sentiment I have heard more than once these last few weeks.
I can hear that… and the other feedback I am getting about preaching. I know I need to be lighter, more succinct, more formally grounded in the Scriptures.
And yet, I reel at the idea that worship’s primary agenda – or even secondary agenda — is to have us feeling uplifted or feeling better.
Perhaps the preeminent text in the Scriptures about worship is Isaiah 6.
Isaiah’s grieving. He’s coming from a funeral. Surely, he came with a need to feel better.
But, look what happens when he gets to “Church.” He’s scared spitless, brought to the point of saying, “woe is me… I’m a goner!” By worship’s end, he’s got a new job of telling a most dreadful message. I’m sure all that made him feel better!
“But,” someone out there says, “he had that moment in between of being forgiven and being cleansed!”
Yeah, right… and it came on the other side of having a hot coal pressed on his lips! (Let me try that one in worship!) I can imagine that when he said “Here I am, Lord… Send me!,” it came out (through swollen lips) more like “Beer I am Lorb, sbend be!”
Yes, worship sure did a good job of making Isaiah feel better… comforting him, in his distress!
Struggle, you see, is that worship is not about us… and certainly not about our feeling better. Worship is about God… and our getting reoriented to Him and His ways!
I imagine a sermon in which the formal printed text is Matthew 16:24: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”
I imagine, further, the preacher getting up and saying that, moved by the Holy Spirit, s/he has 1) decided to change the text and 2) to read the text after the sermon. S/he proceeds to preach a dynamic and vibrant sermon along these lines: “Dearly Beloved of God, Most Precious Saints: I am so amazed and thankful that you are here this morning! You have so much pressing you down… and to make it to worship this morning, I know, took a lot of strength. You are very much to be commended! But, it’s good that you are here. For I want you to know that God knows your every burden and struggle and He wants, He needs you to hear that He knows it hurts and it’s going to get better! He wants you to know that it ‘may be Friday, but Sunday’s a coming!’ Yes, but in the meantime, he wants you to settle down, take it easy… Your burden is very heavy so He wants you to kick back a little more and enjoy the things you’ve accumulated. Please don’t worry so much about the poor around you! He’ll take care of them. And please, don’t worry about any kind of walking across the room… We – God and I – are just glad you showed up!” And on the message goes until the preacher finally comes to the point of reading two Scripture Lessons:
8 Go now, write it on a tablet for them,
inscribe it on a scroll,
that for the days to come
it may be an everlasting witness.
9 These are rebellious people, deceitful children,
children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction.
10 They say to the seers,
“See no more visions!”
and to the prophets,
“Give us no more visions of what is right!
Tell us pleasant things,
11 Leave this way,
get off this path,
and stop confronting us
with the Holy One of Israel!”
2Herald and preach the Word! Keep your sense of urgency [stand by, be at hand and ready], whether the opportunity seems to be favorable or unfavorable. [Whether it is convenient or inconvenient, whether it is welcome or unwelcome, you as preacher of the Word are to show people in what way their lives are wrong.] And convince them, rebuking and correcting, warning and urging and encouraging them, being unflagging and inexhaustible in patience and teaching. 3For the time is coming when [people] will not tolerate (endure) sound and wholesome instruction, but, having ears itching [for something pleasing and gratifying], they will gather to themselves one teacher after another to a considerable number, chosen to satisfy their own liking and to foster the errors they hold, 4and will turn aside from hearing the truth and wander off into myths and man-made fictions.
–2 Timothy 4:2-4
All this said and done (maybe with a closing song of “Just As I Am”), I can finally imagine the people moving forward with their day, saying it was one of the best sermons they had ever heard – even if the closing texts were irrelevant and obscure…
Amidst all our talks of reform around the church, there is talk of expecting excellence… and not settling for less. I seriously have no problem with that… and believe, as others are sounding, that it should begin with clergy and staff. What cankers me, though, is an apparent double standard that seems to be emerging: where excellence is expected of ministers, but too many folks in the pews demand that there not be any talk of one more way things could be done better (if it personally impacts or involves them).
It’s all just one more way the consumerism of our age plagues the Church.
Bottom line, for me is: as much as He comforted the afflicted, Jesus ruffled feathers and ended up on a cross… and most of the disciples met their end as martyrs… And, for those of us who are Methodists, Wesley’s sermons were/are really quite boring (to my sentiments) and very demanding…
Truth is, as I see it, none of it necessary felt good. But, then, that was not foremost in their minds and hearts! That was not their agenda!
And so, in spite of feelings, I’ll continue to dance…