Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Preaching as Calling

The other day, I was doing some work on the "marks of the Church." What I discovered was an article on renewing congregational life by a mainline pastor printed in the Christian Century in 2000. In the article, there was a quote that intrigued me. The author, Anthony Robinson, writes...
After the dedication of a new community youth center, a leader in my denomination was invited by the mayor of the city to have coffee. The mayor, who happened to be African-American, told the minister, "You know, I appreciate all your efforts in getting this center opened, and I also appreciate your remarks today. But you are a Christian minister and I didn’t hear you say anything that couldn’t have been said by someone else. We need to hear something different from you. We need to hear something from the gospel."

This is a wake-up call to all preachers, including myself. When I first had the thought that God might be calling me into ordained ministry, I had a quandry. Why did I have to be ordained to preach? I mean, we are all called "to make disciples," to be "Christ's ambassadors," or to be Christ's "witnesses." What makes the preacher different? While in seminary, I was not ordained, but I preached every Sunday. What would be different in my preaching after my ordination?

Finally, I accepted a solution albeit an imperfect one. The preacher who is called and ordained must share God's Word. He or she must be Christ's witness. There are times when the gospel may be inconvenient, embarrassing, or even risky. The ordained preacher must speak the Word of God when no one else will.

It is so easy to lose track of this vocation. In the midst of ministry, preachers will acquire multiple interests and talents. Some become junior psychologists. Others are experts in marketing or management. Still others become political activists. These abilities are not bad things. In its own way, each can bring glory to God. A good preacher uses these talents to inform preaching, bringing them in submission to the Word. Occasionally, we forget our calling, and these talents replace our preaching. We've all heard sermons that were merely political diatribes, self-help advice or sociological analysis. Resisting these tempations, we must cry out with John the Baptist, "[Jesus Christ] must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30).

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