Some time in the next week will mark a rather
unusual anniversary.For the best
part of 30 years I have been a preacher. In the early days I preached monthly,
for most of the time I preached weekly, and in more recent years normally three
times a week. A year ago I preached my last sermon as a local church pastor
before joining the Royal Australian Navy as a Chaplain. As a Chaplain I engage
in all sorts of ministry but don’t really preach. So what has God taught me
over this last year when the preacher has not preached.
Firstly, looking back I probably
underestimated the privilege that people afforded me by turning up to church to
listen. Sure they were ultimately turning up to listen to God’s Word, but by
turning up where I was the preacher they were making a decision to listen to
me. Maybe over the years I underestimated that incredible honour.
Secondly, I am a little fearful that I may
have caused too much suffering and too little blessing. Now as a listener, when
I nod off I am reminded of my previous preacher’s ‘self-righteous judgement’,
convinced that inattentiveness was always the listener’s fault. As the listener
I am conversely convinced that the preacher is not always worthy of my
Thirdly, I do miss preaching but in a rather
unusual way. I had the joy of being the pastor of three wonderful churches, where
increasingly preaching became a dialogue where we corporately struggled to
relate our faith to life. Question times after preaching was a regular feature
for me for over 20 years. These questions (and often the unsaid questions made clear by expressions, grimaces, dropped heads or even
the odd walk out) made me engage in many struggles, fears and doubts. It made
me question my faith to see if it really stood up. In a strange way I am sure
my faith was personally stronger by having to preach. To be truthful I am sure
at times my preaching sounded more like the ‘party line’ than a genuine
reasoned defence. However, mostly
the people who listened helped me to preach genuinely and honestly in a society
where growing secularism causes even the most devout to doubt.
Finally, I am learning afresh that you don’t
have to be a preacher to preach. In the Navy every day I deal with blue
collared (well, grey actually) men and women who are a long way from
traditional Christian belief. Some have church backgrounds, most don’t. Almost
all of them would be probably not make much sense of what I use to preach. But
in all sorts of ways they come to me, or I come to them, where essentially I
listen and occasionally have a few words to say. Surprisingly, by and large
they appreciate that I listen and warm to what few things I have to say. Much
like church the dialogue continues and I hope they are as blessed by these
encounters as I am.
If I am not incorrect, the original word in
the Bible we translate ‘preach’ has little to do with standing up in a church
and teaching. It has more to do with proclamation – telling people the good
news, the important news that God loves them outrageously in Christ.
Ironically the Navy refers to a public talk
you give to impart information as a ‘brief’. As a church preacher I fear I was
too seldom brief.
So maybe even though I am preaching less I
may actually be proclaiming more.
Rom. 15:20It has always
been my ambition to preach the gospel
where Christ was not known ….