Monday, August 22, 2011

The Social Location of the Preacher and the Blame Game

Since coming to NZ I have heard a common refrain despairing at the poverty of preaching in NZ, how preachers willfully abuse the scriptures and fail to feed their hungry people on the word of God instead feeding them a toxic mix of homespun advice, pop psychology and gratutuitous proof texting. 

As a foreigner i would confidently guess that the percentage of good preachers to bad ones here is probably the same as anywhere else in the world, though i'm not sure i have sufficient experience to know for sure.  But for sure the percentage of those NZ academics ready and willing to decry the state of preaching is sky high.  The accusation is always that the preacher does not respect The Word, that they are too busy pushing their "leadership" agenda to properly minister the scriptures, or that they just don't spend enough time in preparation - all of which may be quite true.

But like all of God's creatures the preacher is a product of their environment, most particularly the church, the academy that trained them, and of course our consumer society. Those despicable preachers cannot shoulder the blame for all their failings.  I could go on to list ten reasons why the Church as a whole is to blame for the situation (i mean who employs these turkeys?), or even twenty why the academy is to blame (when you divide biblical studies, theology, church history and homiletics into different subjects don't be surprised if they don't interact in the student's brain) but passing the blame from preacher to congregation to academy manages to culture only serves to mimic the post-lapsarian shuffling of feet of Gen 3:11-13.  Instead we need to work out the ways in which we can cover our nakedness.  Making preachers feel guilty for not meeting the standards of their theology teachers is not one of them.

The truth is (and here comes some of my own pop pschology) the worse a preacher feels about their preaching, the less time they are likely to give to it.  The more they feel those in the academy they look up to have set an impossible standard the less they will work to reach it.  The more the church praises them for giving them junk food instead of real meat the less likely they are to take the time to cook a square meal. 

In today's consumeristic world, which has fully infiltrated the church preachers serving MacDonalds will draw the crowds, while those serving finely honed nourishing food will only attract the connoisseur.  And even those who are drawn to "real preaching" are in danger of making a marketing choice rather than a real act of devotion.  Spiritual pride can still be found in those listening regularly to "biblical preaching."

There is no fix, but for those of us who care about this, and i do, i can only suggest the following homespun wisdom:

1. If you are a biblical preacher teach your congregation what biblical preaching is and how to train their preachers in it and let them train you! (and make sure you are actively training others)
2. If you are an academic adopt a different preacher each year, be nice to them and encourage them in their preaching of scripture.
3. If you are a frustrated congregant pray for your pastor and talk to him or her gently but matter of factly about what is missing from the sermons.

Let me know what you think, and how you get on :-)

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