The (actual) foolishness of preaching

If you preach, you know how foolish it is. 

Someone comes to listen to you talk, then goes home. Then hopefully comes back next week and does it again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

What power is there in that? How can my sort of simplistic mumbling possibly make a difference in a life?

You pour your heart and soul into preparing a message you hope is from God, you deliver it with prayer, passion and courage and people walk away asking “So where do you want to go to lunch?”

You listen to someone right after the service and they explain a life circumstance you just talked about and outlined a way through and they seem to have not heard a word.

Foolishness.

So for my friends who weekly give themselves because they believe in this sort of foolishness, I offer this list of hazards (and blessings): the actual foolishness of preaching. They don’t happen every week (if they all did, I’d probably quit), but maybe you can relate.

Hazards

  • Your joke intended to lighten tension instead offends/falls completely flat/you can’t tell a joke at all
  • Your words, carefully thought through in the mind and on paper, still come out wrong.
  • On the above, you’ll try to recover, but catch yourself in a quicksand of words you yourself wish would end (seriously, where are we going for lunch?).
  • You will fail to work to clarity on a key transition–excusing your sloppiness via deference to “experience”–and will be internally derailed and find it hard to get back into the flow of the message.
  • You struggle from the moment you open your mouth.
  • People will judge you based on your worst performance.
  • People will miss your motive and assume the worst.
  • People will fall asleep.
  • People will physically threaten you when you are done (I’ve had it happen).
  • The one person you were hoping would be there, comes on the Sunday when you feel like you were at your absolute worst.
  • You’ll walk off the stage, someone will say “Nice message Pastor” and your internal narrative will be something like, “Seriously? That was awful!” You smile anyway.
  • People will say “Good message Pastor” and you’ll know they are just being nice.
  • You won’t be able to land the plane and will keep buzzing the runway trying to land the plane again, one more time, any minute now, hold on, almost there, and.
  • Your gift will complicate your communication. If you are primarily a teacher, you’ll use too many words. If you are an apostle, you’ll be too demanding. If you are an evangelist, you’ll be too stringent. If you are a shepherd, you’ll be too vague and “nice.” If you are a prophet, you’ll bring so much thunder, everyone will tremble (and you’ll probably miss that you scared everyone instead of inspiring them).
  • As you reflect on the way home, the way you wished you’d made that transition, clarified that wording, or drove home that point will suddenly become crystal clear.
  • No one says a word to you after the message. Not. One. Word.
  • (You think) No one changes. At all. Ever.
  • People leave because you said something that offended them. They don’t talk to you, clarify or see if they misheard, they just leave assuming their offense was justified (and that you’re the biggest jerk in the history of jerks).
  • You’ll get into a fight with your spouse because you used them in an off-the-cuff illustration…again.
  • Someone will email you telling you how arrogant you are the same day someone emails you to tell you how humble you are.
  • You love/hate the process of preaching. It’s like giving birth every week only to find out your pregnant the moment after delivery.
  • You’ll know the reality of Spurgeon’s words: “Preaching is like throwing a bucket of water at a row of bottles.”

I’m sure you could add to the list (please do in the comments). But we know that’s not the final word.

Blessings

  • God will use your words–especially the week you feel it goes south like bad cheese–anyway. That will be the day people line up to say thank you.
  • You see people weeping as a point or story hits home.
  • People you think will never get it, radically begin to follow Jesus–and they thank you and credit the start of their journey to your preaching.
  • Someone will pull you aside at an unexpected moment and say, “I’ve learned so much about Jesus because of you. Thank you.”
  • Your own heart will be convicted, encouraged, and strengthened as you let the text read you first. You get to be the first one to “hear the word of the Lord.”
  • Your best content will be something you never thought about or prepared for but that came on the spur of the moment.
  • Through the foolishness of what is preached, people find the saving, home-welcoming love of Jesus.
  • Someone will tell you, just when you need to hear it, “You’re making a difference for so many of us. Thank you.”
  • Someone will come up to you and say, “How do you do that every week? Every week it’s exactly what I need to hear.” You’ll marvel at how the Holy Spirit works.
  • You’ll feel the flow as you do one of the things you know you were made for.
  • You get to sense the “holy moment” that descends on a congregation when the word of God is really heard (Shema’d) by the people of God.
  • You’ll marvel that someone with as many weaknesses as you actually gets to do this.

Foolishness.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21

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