We preachers tend to boast: sometimes we are like anglers after a catch; ‘It was this big”. A few years back I remember hearing of a survey where preachers were quizzed on their preaching and how good they thought it was: over 95% rated it as good. The same survey reported that for congregations that figure was around 70%. The gist of that survey has stuck with me; I am loathe to talk about how ‘good’ I may have been. And anyway, as I have quoted many times in the 18th century English of John Wesley: ‘If thou art constrained to bless the instrument, give God the glory’- be very wary of the person who describes their preaching as ‘good’ , ‘dynamic’ or wants you to regularly listen to tales of how incredible they have been.
However…. recently I was at a church and someone came up to me and said they felt I was unlike many other preachers they hear: ‘You make us think a lot and you talk about how sometimes things don’t work out- that life was messy and unpredictable but that was ok, that was normal. That was the gist of it: compliments generally make me uneasy- it ain’t about you mate; we have one Messiah and we don’t need anymore- I don’t always remember the details.
At first, my ego was boosted, but then I became sad. Now I am more angry (in fact I have drafted and redrafted this to make it less ranty): why did that person feel that people generally don’t hear about the ‘mess’ or about a Redeemer that is there in the shit with us? How does that equip someone to face ordinary life with its mess an beauty? I know we need to hear the occasional story of someone who overcame great odds or had a massive impact, but not all of the time- life is just not like that.
I have been most encouraged by those who didn’t pretend or talk about God like he was a drug that made everything better again (see this for a thoughtful take on ‘church as crackhouse’http://banksyboy.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/church-and-drugs-and-rock-and-rollins.html- for some this will go too far) Looking back on over 25 years of Christian experience I am aware more and more of those who have been bruised, broken and did not ‘fit’ and have not seen that mirrored in worship or Church life…..many of those have walked away disillusioned at the strain of living in two worlds that seemed to be moving further and further away from each other.
Why, o why had this person got the impression that much preaching ignores the darkness and the shade? Why are we so scared to look into the heart of brokeness and stay there without rushing away? Psalm 44 or 88 anyone?