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Reflections on the current preacher shortage

February 2, 2012

A few years ago, I went down to one of our local megachurches that features a minister who has a knack for getting his face on TV and his name in the paper a lot.

I was in seminary at the time, and I had an assignment from my Christian Worship class to attend a service that was different from my tradition and write a paper about it. This, by the way, is standard seminary fare. Observe. Reflect. Write a paper.

At the time, I was struggling with what it means to be called to preach and exactly how it was I came to be in seminary in the first place. What the heck was I doing? I would turn on TV, and there they were: the swarm of TV evangelists with their fancy suits and their screaming and their constant pleas for money.

Plus, I live in the Bible Belt, and churches are everywhere. You cannot throw a rock without hitting a preacher. I kept asking myself: Why in the world do we need another one? Don’t we already have far more than is necessary!?

I wasn’t particularly excited about the assignment, either.  I already had some preconceived notions about the place I was going. But upon reflection – again, seminary types reflect a lot, it’s a good thing — I recognized that I had not ever been to the aforementioned megachurch, so, you know, who was I to judge? By the time Sunday came, I was thinking: “Well, OK, this will probably be a lot of praise music, getting up and waving hands in the air and so forth. That is not my normal scene, but I could probably use some of that, a little pep in my step. This will probably be a good experience for me, and for my faith. So here goes.”

Turns out, there was very little discernible praise and only a couple praise songs.

Without getting into all the specifics, here are the highlights: lots of sales pitches for the worship team’s new album at the church’s store (which also offered clothes and lunch boxes, and, ahem, the pastor’s books); big production value; and a keynote address (the word “sermon” was avoided) that included some vague references to God.

I would be hard-pressed to tell you the minister’s central theme, but it included these thoughts that he shared to the overwhelming approval of the predominantly Anglo and middle- to upper-class audience: The government is overtaxing you and giving your money to “people who smoke weed, drink beer and mess around on their iPods.”  People have too much of a victimization mentality and must learn that God is not fair. Oh, and as a benediction, he worked in an additional plug for the worship team’s CD.

All right, I don’t want to give the impression that the Bible was not a part of the service — there was one sitting nearby, next to him, on the stage! Of course, it might as well have been used as a doorstop for all the good it was doing there that morning. So, OK, well, yes, it was as if the Bible was not even there.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the thousands of casually dressed “seekers” walked to their cars afterward thinking they had just heard a biblical message. (What I heard was something designed to make us feel good about our middle to upper class lives. Even worse, it actually seemed sharply at odds with the overwhelming witness of the both testaments: that to be a faithful person is to walk alongside the poor and oppressed.)

That’s the trouble with biblical preaching. It’s not what people think it is.

A biblical preacher starts with a biblical passage, which leads to the message. That is its primary distinction from other kinds of preaching, which approach construction of a sermon in reverse order: message, then finding some Bible verses to endorse your point of view (proof texting).

A biblical message rarely goes where you think it will go, and it challenges easy answers. It can make you uncomfortable. It can make you think. It is open to the Holy Spirit and to the power of reconciliation. Sometimes, it so challenges what you have always believed that it can make you angry enough to stop going to church, join a different church or start a new denomination.  Or it can open your heart to serve others.

That morning, as the service ended at the local megachurch, I looked down from the balcony and saw thousands of people heading out, and I realized that they were coming to this place every weekend because they were searching for something bigger than themselves. It reminded me that many people still need to hear the Gospel, even in our seemingly over-churched context. How will they ever be reached?

I still picture that scene when I go from month to month, waiting, praying for a ministry call that doesn’t come. It is the reason I will stick with it. It is the same reason I will remain loyal to this broken, crumbling Presbyterian Church (USA). It is faithful to the Bible in the truest sense: which means, its pastors sincerely wrestle with the scriptures and encourage their flocks to do the same.

You see, the world does have far too many preachers. It doesn’t have nearly enough biblical preachers though.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Cindy J Lee permalink
    February 2, 2012 4:19 pm

    Amen, Matt. You made some good points. Especially “Sometimes, it so challenges what you have always believed that it can make you angry enough to stop going to church, join a different church or start a new denomination. Or it can open your heart to serve others.” Keep on, it will happen.

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