Why So Urgent?
I hate reading. Since leaving seminary, I have started reading a large collection of books. I have finished many of them tentatively (gotta get through this thing); I have left many unfinished (reached a point where I was done reading before they were done writing). I really hate reading on a deadline, or as an assignment (authority issues perhaps…laziness perhaps?). Recently, I picked up a book that hascaptured me.
I agreed to teach a class, and the book is the ‘text book’ for the class. It’s about communicating more effectively, and I learned quite a bit in the beginning of the book (the ‘story’ portion).
Then, the second part of the book got a little harder to get through for me. The author took the principles from the story and expanded them into a teaching approach on those principles. My frustration began as the transition came. “I got what I needed to get out of the story portion. Is this just a rehash of the principles in the front?”
Then, a single statement literally doubled me over. Right there in Starbucks, I read, I wept. The section of the book was about why growing in your trade (preaching) is important. I didn’t particularly need this pep talk, I habitually look for ways to become a better speaker/preacher. I experiment and adjust as I learn, so (honestly) my eyes were sort of skimming the words as I ‘people glanced’ and sucked on my Vanilla Misto. Then, the author laid out the following hypothetical (I’m paraphrasing).
Your teenage son has grown away from you and from the Church. His faith is shaky at best, and he has announced that he’s leaving. Leaving you, leaving the Church, leaving the area. Out of his respect for you, he’ll come this last Sunday and then he’s leaving. If the Holy Spirit comes to you and tells you exactly an illustration and message that would reach your son, wouldn’t you try it?
As touching as the story was, the punch was right after: “Next Sunday, somebody’s prodigal son or daughter may slip into the back of your auditorium to give the God thing one last try.”1 I would like to think I preach and teach with a seriousness that doesn’t deny this fact. However, I can’t say that I have consistently approached my communication task in order to encounter that fact.
I recently surveyed my congregation to see (among other things) where my preaching could be more effective in striking the chords my people need. I gathered some good insights and am making some adjustments. This book has spurred some deeper thinking about sermon preparation and approach in general. That single statement was worth the cost of the book (and far more). There is a certain essential desperation to preaching, and at times I lack that desperation.
Before you shout, “Yeah, man!” at the preachers who may read this. Let’s look at the same concept beyond preaching. How might I incorporate that same Kingdom desperation into the way I live, and not just the way I preach? We all spend so much time thinking, complaining and (let’s be real) bitching about what’s wrong with the world and how we are powerless to change it. Maybe the old trite worn-out phrase is right. Be the change you want to see. Do I live with a Kingdom urgency, or am I waiting for someone or something else to change before I do?
It is easy to write about what’s wrong with the world, or this politician or party or that, or with driving or parenting, or whatever. I can write, complain and walk away unchanged. The Gospel calls for transformation, not argumentation. Maybe it’s time to shut up for a little bit and take the hard turn of letting the Holy Spirit change us. This blog post is far from over, but what will I do about it? What will you? Any suggestions?
1 Stanley, Andy & Jones, Lane, Communicating for a Change, Multnomah Books, 2013. p.176