Monday, August 27, 2007

Memoirs of a Washed Up Preacher

Once upon a time I preached with unfettered confidence. I was ready and willing to set the pulpit on fire for Jesus. There was nothing that would stand in my way – I had a message to give and come hell or high water that message would be heard.

Back then, I was a very different person. How blissfully oblivious I was to the complexities of life and how wonderful it was that I could speak with utter conviction and clarity without even a twinge of conscience. What noble misapprehensions I laboured under. True enough, I believed in lies – but what beautiful lies they were.

As I look back upon the headstrong twenty year old boy preaching his first sermon, I reflect back with nostalgia, although not without a twinge of sadness. I lament over what has been lost. Over what will never be redeemed. Little did this boy know what would be stolen from him through the vicissitudes of life. First, he lost his sense of self-assured certainty. Once so safe and predictable, the world becomes an intricate web of variables that interact together to confound his preconceived formulas. Then he lost his sense of integrity. Sins once darkened by the shadows of ignorance reveal themselves in the light of a new morn. His pretensions were forever dashed.

Preaching became increasingly hard for me in this new world. I could feel myself becoming less articulate day by day and was sure that my listeners could sense it too. It was easy to preach powerfully and passionately when I believed that the ideas I believed in were as stable as the ground below me, but once the ground opened up and swallowed me whole, I knew that there was no turning back. I considered myself a fraud. How could I preach about something that I wasn’t absolutely sure about? How could I preach about selfishness when I was selfish to the very core? I concluded that to continue on could only be regarded as the epitome of hypocrisy. And then one day, I made the decision that I could never preach. That I would never preach again.

If I was sure about anything, it was my decision to never preach again. However, this too proved to be unstable. Steph asked me if wished to speak at Space For God. Since I wasn’t expected to stand out in front of a pulpit, I reluctantly agreed. I still remember that night. To my mind, it was a technically flawed performance. I felt that I didn’t communicate clearly and that I stumbled over my words. I felt as though I was a pale remnant of my yesteryear. But apparently the effort was appreciated and I was asked to speak again – and again I agreed reluctantly. I have since spoken a few times and still feel uncomfortable at the prospect. Still, it is gratifying to know that I can contribute to the life of the community.

It has occurred to me that I am condemned to preach - but to preach what? I have made the conscious decision, however awkwardly, to preach those things about which I know best. I will preach my doubts, my fears and my failings. I will preach my depression, my demons and my struggles, as well as the love of God in amongst all of this messiness and my utter dependence upon his grace. How can I do any more? How can I do any less? It is the only way that I can speak with clarity and truthfulness. I've realised that I don't need to know all the answer to communicate something close to my heart. I think Peter Cameron expressed it most beautifully when he talked about the role of a minister:

"The minister to my mind was not a hierophant - a revealer of sacred things - but a fellow traveller, someone whose task it was to be more honest and open about his frailty and doubts than anyone else, a professional doubter, an intellectual rather than a moral conscience."

This is why I am what I am - a Minister of Incompetence.


emblazoned said...

Beautiful, gritty, real.

And the final quote finished it perfectly. I shall certainly steal it.

Paul said...

Remarkable -- in your Peter Cameron quote you have described the minister of my church precisely.

My minister recently told me about the greatest trial in life. He said that this trial brought him back to the essence of his faith, his complete dependence on God. He sees many other elements of his role as minister, e.g. presbytery meetings, as rather futile.

Our trials will make us suffer, but the solace found in God in these tough times may help to clarify.