‘Walk in our shoes’: Keys to helping proclaim preciousness of preaching
I would get one ofthe family Bibles out of the bookshelf, stand behind our coffee table andpreach to anyone who would listen.
I remember hearingsome of the older women rejoicing that Jimmy Holsten was going to preach, andtheir excited chatter: “He will make an excellent preacher.”
But I remember othervoices as well — preachers, parents and well-meaning loved ones who repeatedlywarned of the tragic life of the preacher. I heard the horror stories ofpreachers fired at the spur of the moment, of overly critical elderships andunder-motivated churches.
I heard preacherssaying, from the pulpit, “If you can do anything other than preaching, do it.”For much of my life, I listened to these latter voices. I determined to doanything but preach.
Not until much later— having established another career — did I consider ministry as a profession.When the little church in Mertzon, Texas, asked me to preach on aregular basis, I immediately said, “No. And don’t ask again.”
I wondered why anyonewould choose ministry as a full-time profession. Given all the negative speechabout the horrors of ministry and all the examples of burnout, why would anyonewant to fill such a role?
After muchdiscussion, I agreed to serve for six weeks while our congregation looked for aperson to fill the evangelist role. But in the course of those first weeks, Idiscovered that while ministry definitely has its share of heartaches andfrustration, it also comes with great blessing. I discovered that a preachergets to wear all kinds of shoes — each pair taking the preacher into new homes,new situations and new lives.
The first person Iwas called to visit in the emergency room was one of the children in our little congregation. She was experiencingsevere abdominal pain, and I was asked to be there as soon as possible. But inthe midst of sitting with the family and praying together, I became consumed bythe great honor they had afforded me — they brought me into the most intimatepart of their lives.
They had made me apart of the close-knit family that hurts together. I’d heard that preachers getthe late-night phone calls. I hadn’t heard that this is much less a burden andmuch more an honor.
Given the perceptionof many in the church, is it any wonder that the number of full-timeevangelists is rapidly shrinking? Should we be surprised that few in ourcongregations are willing to pursue a ministry career path?
Doesn’t it make sensethat the brightest teens in our youth groups are choosing to major in anythingbut biblical studies? They’re asking the same question I asked; “Why wouldanyone want to fill such a role?”
“How beautiful arethe feet of those who preach the good news!”
How does the churchspeak about the work of the evangelist? What do we communicate to the brightestof our children? Which messages will they hear or remember?
I would like to suggestthat preachers have an important opportunity to proclaim the preciousness ofpreaching. By carefully assessing the message we communicate, we can change theway the profession is perceived by those who are inclined to preach the gospelso that they are encouraged to beautify their feet.
1. Bethankful. Paul opens all but one of his letters with a touchingexpression of gratitude: for the gospel, for the saints and for his ministry.Why not incorporate this kind of language into our introductions as well? Anexpression of gratitude for the fellowship of believers, the gospel that unitesus and the honor of proclaiming God’s love will have a lasting effect upon ouraudience.
2. Bepositive. There are indeed a number of hardships in preaching, butthere are a number of blessings as well. Consider that we are often invitedinto the most intimate and private moments in the lives of complete strangers.Rather than complaining how folks only want us for marriages and burials,perhaps we can communicate the honor of participating in the lives of those weserve.
3. Bejoyful. It’s true that our work can be hard, even exhausting. But itis in these moments that many are watching us to see how we will endure. Inthese moments, we must be particularly joyful. Our faces should be defined by aready smile, particularly when we are feeling the effects of fatigue.
4. Beempowering. We need to step out of the pulpit frequently, so that wecan empower and develop others in our congregation to proclaim the gospel. Weshould give the men — young and old — of our congregations a taste of the joyof proclamation. We should listen to their sermons, provide them with positivefeedback and give them the support we were given.
I’m still working onthat “six-week” career — I have been for almost nine years. And while it’s truethat ministry is often a gut-wrenching challenge, it’s also a great joy.
In a 1980 essay,Eldred Stephens implored his reader, “Don’t let anybody discount, belittle orlook down on the position you fill as a gospel preacher.” Perhaps we shouldheed these words as well.
Perhaps we can findways to communicate the joy of our profession.
Perhaps we caninfluence a change in the trends, so that new generations of evangelists desireto walk in our shoes.
J.SCOTT SELF is a full-time evangelist for the Honolulu Church of Christ.
May 1, 2006