Friday, October 6, 2017
Why lay pastors. . .
At some point along the way, we forgot what a sermon was. We began to treat the sermon as an extended Bible study on one hand or an inspirational or motivational speech on the other hand. In other words, the sermon became either an educational endeavor or it became an entertaining but informative way of using your faith to get what you want. We somehow forgot that the Word is efficacious -- even in the pulpit. It is a living and powerful Word through which God addresses us, calls us to faith, equips us with the Spirit, and directs us to Christ in whom we alone can begin to fulfill our baptismal vocation as a child of God and our vocations in life as husbands, wives, children, workers, employers, neighbors, and citizens. The sermon was detached from the Word and was at best the Word once removed. Our attention, therefore, was not automatic but had to be earned by the preacher and our judgement of the sermon was not based on its truth and faithfulness to the Word of God but its usefulness in our daily life as we struggle to get what we want and its entertainment value. A good preacher was no longer one who faithfully proclaimed the Word of God but one who engaged our minds and could bring a smile to our lips.
As this understanding of the preached Word and the sermon changed, so did our ideas about who could or should preach. Preaching was not the task assigned to the one upon whom the office was conferred (the predigamt) but could be done by anyone who had the gift of informing us or making us laugh. The value once attached to a well-prepared sermon was deferred to the spontaneous, unscripted, and light-hearted religious monologue that made us feel better about ourselves, our lives, and our own predetermined ideas about God. The natural outgrowth of this was to open the pulpit to those who had not been so trained or certified by the Church for this purpose. Deacons, lay people, and others (not of our Confession) could preach and probably better than our own preachers who had been formally trained for the kind of preaching we no longer valued highly. They could preach because it wasn't rocket science, it was a knack more than something for which you were trained, and it was not so important that the pulpit had to be restricted to any individual or group.
We forgot that the sermon is part of the Ministry of the Word. We forgot that the sermon is one of the domains through which the sacramental Word encounters us. We forgot that the sermon was more about God addressing us than any individual talking to us. We forgot that this is one of the most important responsibilities of the pastor. We forgot that God's judgment of what constitutes a good sermon is more important than ours. We devalued the pulpit and what went on there to the point where we no longer found a disconnect between our theology and its practice when someone other than a pastor "preached" to us. We forgot that it was incumbent upon us to know the faith well enough to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd or to judge it the deceptive voice of the one who seeks our destruction and not our salvation. At the same time we forgot that this life was not more important or valuable than the life for which Christ died and rose so that we might live it without fear of death. We forgot that our goal is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come and became near so sighted as to see only the moment.
If we wonder why preaching suffers in our age and time, it is not merely do to the fault or failing of the preachers but to our understanding of the sermon and to our expectations of that sermon. If we wonder how it could be that a church body that once proclaimed without doubt that no one should publicly preach or administer the sacraments without being rightly called could suddenly give resolution and by-law authority to lay preachers, we need look no further than our confusion over what the sermon is and what the sermon is to be about. It is not because we think too highly of the sermon but because we have judged it common, ordinary, and something anyone and everyone can and should do that we are in the mess we are find ourselves. There is plenty of blame. There is only one path worthy of us. That is repentance for our past and the restoration of our once vibrant and noble task of preaching and the preacher upon whom the authority of the pulpit is conferred.