Search Adorate

The Incredible Shrinking Ministry

The sermon is ultimately a message from outside the known universe to the listening church.  The faces of those who are listening must be less noticeable than the hot breath of God the Almighty over our shoulder along with the whispered question, “What in the world are you telling my people this morning?”
The God-directed foundation of preaching can easily erode.  But, it must be preserved not because it is what the church wants, when, in fact, it may want nothing of the kind.  It must be preserved not because it is always the most effective things to preach, when it may not be.  It must be preserved because the Senior Pastor has not given us His church to inspire and grow as we see fit.  He has temporarily handed us the microphone, all the while listening carefully to every word we say to His congregation.
We must acknowledge, like Isaiah before the thundering praises of the Seraphim, that we are a compromised ministry living and serving in the midst of a compromised people.
 In order to survive in the competitive world of the Christian ministry within the 21st century, the preacher must concentrate special attention to style and humor and story-telling.   Many congregations offer far more grace toward a spiritual midget who is a great speaker, than a saint who cannot manage to speak in a way that rivets limited attention spans.  For nearly as many, the unpardonable sin of the ministry is not adultery.  A candid survey of the names of those who will be preaching across the nation this Sunday demonstrates that.  It is being an uninteresting speaker that closes the doors of opportunity.  While preachers should certainly put effort into being  engaging, making the congregation's responses the primary concern repositions ultimate authority in the church into what Nathan Hatch has called “the sovereign audience.”
We exist within the reality of a religious environment in which churches compete head-to-head against one another for the same segment of every market.  This has made the American church dynamic, flexible, responsive, fluid, accommodating, and chained to a culture's ever-evolving list of felt-needs.  In this the preacher stands as either the prime cheer-leader of whatever-it-takes or the voice that cries out against the pressing flood, “We will not be moved.”
It is difficult not to hear a number of the best and brightest examples of contemporary preaching and not feel something has slipped.  We have to face the disturbing possibility that in a darkened room a dim bulb might look much brighter than it is.  Behind and before disturbing statistics of a shrinking church may lurk the less noticed but even more disturbing voice of a shrinking ministry.  
But, as in ages past, God has a way of raising up people in those times and places the church seems to have lost its way.  The ministry is not covered under the office of human resources.  Preaching is a physical activity through which God Himself acts and moves.  In that classic sense, it is sacramental.  This is typified in those times the preacher steps down from what seems to be a less than stellar sermon only to be pulled aside by someone who whispers, “God really spoke to me through your sermon.”  The softer whisper behind the whisper is, “It was not you, child of dust.

No comments: