As I am preparing for our Easter service, I can’t help but be reminded of what my preaching professor has always told his students.
If you are going to break the silence, don’t fill the void with word clutter.
Meaning, make sure that what you have to say comes from God and not from you. There are enough words floating around from so many different voices, don’t clutter it even more with words that don’t matter.
I have been receiving for the past three weeks statements and informations for my tax preparation. I have been shocked to find the number of nonprofits I have supported over the past year. I don’t remember doing this intentionally, I only remember that every organization had a friend whose dream was to go serve people overseas and use the talents and gift they had been giving to help others.
In many ways, I was without a single church last year as I spent many Sundays in different pulpits providing pulpit supply, so these friends were my church. They were who I supported so that they could have experiences that might change their lives and might put them a little closer to finding their lives calling.
Now that we have a church home, I can’t help but hope that this is exactly what we are doing as a church, supporting others as they work out the call God has placed on their lives to be worthy of the calling and to live a new life in Christ. And when we do church that way, we start to transform people and in turn start to transform the world.
It reminds me that everyone has a story that and a dream to make a difference, yes, even those who upon first glance don’t fit our definitions of dreamers.
My preaching professor always told us that there was something about the holy desk that changed a person. He urged us that if we ever got to the point in our preaching lives where we didn’t approach this holy desk with fear and trembling, then it was time for us to give it up and call it quits. The work of delivering a word from God is too important to take lightly.
On Sunday, I was so excited to share with my congregation about what I had been learning and studying that week. I couldn’t wait for the point in the sermon where I could share my thoughts, but I got to the pulpit and realized I started reading the wrong scripture. I was going to provide some context from about I Timothy and then move on to the main scripture passage in chapter 6, but I got so wrapped up in telling about what I had learned from the scripture passage that I forgot to read the scripture passage.
This isn’t the first experience I’ve had of getting flustered in the pulpit. The first time I was asked to read scripture in chapel in divinity school, I looked up trying to make brief eye contact with the audience and looked back down only to discover I had lost my place. When I started reading, I skipped a line and said aloud, “Oops I skipped a line.”
In my former life as a reading teacher, this was perfectly normal to articulate because thinking out loud is a teaching method that helps students realize that even good readers lose their places sometimes and if in our heads we can learn to recognize that, then we can find our place and get back on track.
But I wasn’t teaching.
I was participating in helping people tune their hearts to God’s heart.
This doesn’t mean that as ministers and worship leaders we don’t make mistakes. I just recounted what I would consider a major mistake on Sunday in my preaching, but what I am overwhelmed by is that the Lord still used me and the words I had prepared in order to touch and speak to God’s people. We are but mere broken vessels who make mistake, but still miraculously are invited to be a part of the spreading of God’s word. We don’t have to be perfect, in fact, remembering our imperfections and our humanity might be the best weekly preparation as ministers.
The holy desk, the holy word, the holy God need to change us every week so that we approach them with fear and trembling praying we don’t get in the way of the transforming work they do.
I was just discussing this week with one of my professors that there is a big difference between the preaching I have done and the preaching I am doing now. There is something completely different about walking through the week with a scripture passage and seeing the people you are going to see on Sunday and walking with what’s going in their lives as well.
Before, I floated in and out of congregations hoping that something I said or prepared would be relevant not knowing when or if I would see them again. (Not to mention in this preaching schedule, I had 3-4 weeks in between each preaching engagement to prepare!)
But now as I prepare, I am not thinking abstractly about who could be there. I am thinking and praying concretely about specific people and specific needs.
I can’t help but think that maybe that’s how Paul felt as he wrote I and 2 Timothy. He knew he was writing to and he knew some of the problems and concerns he was dealing with and he wanted desperately to find some way to offer guidance and help. And maybe, this wasn’t supposed to be a letter that we were even going to see. Maybe this was supposed to be just a private exchange between Paul and Timothy and there wasn’t supposed to be any other audience.
Would Paul really have wanted everyone to know that he said, “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” (I Timothy 1:12-14) or was this meant to be a private confession to a dear friend?
It’s hard to tell and it’s even harder in age when so many things are public via social media to determine as a pastor whether to shout the story of your experience with everyone or whether to treasure those interactions personally and privately.
I think Paul, whether he originally intended these words to be shared or not, would be happy to know that his words and his experiences were making the other former blasphemers and persecutors know the grace, love and mercy of Christ Jesus.
Even as a pastor who is journeying with a specific people through a specific time and place, I can’t know everything my people are going through, but we can walk together uplifting and encouraging each other along the way.
As I share my thoughts about this crazy journey that has been my life, I am continually surprised and overwhelmed by the support and encouragement that comes from the most unlikely place.
For example, this morning I had to stop to fill up my car again (yes, that would make twice in two days) and I ran into the store to get a cup of coffee to finish off my commute. The cashier asked me if I had a rewards card and I answered no. She responded, “Oh I’ll just use mine. Oh look your coffee’s free.” This lady didn’t even know me, but she took the time to see me (maybe it was the circles under my eyes), but she looked beyond herself to make my day a little better.
And maybe that’s what this whole ministry thing is about. Maybe, it’s less about the scheduled events and more about the unexpected events and ways that we interact with people and help restore the belief that we can live in a world where people care about strangers and who offer hospitality even when it seems like it wouldn’t make a difference.
Because sometimes one cup of coffee can change even a preacher’s perspective about what the gospel message is and where it should be preached. Maybe, just maybe, the preaching occurs on the way as we encounter people, yes, especially strangers. It seems we have a pretty strong example for that type of ministry.
This Sunday will be my first Sunday as a pastor and I am absolutely thrilled, but I have to say when the congregation shared with me that there would be a baptism, I was a little concerned. I am overjoyed that my first Sunday will be marked with the baptism of a long-time member of our church and we will all be reminded that of the new life in Christ, especially with the lectionary passage coming out of Luke 14:25-33.
I am stumped and hesitant because . . . I don’t know what to wear.
I am realizing that as a woman preacher I don’t have a mental model for what women preachers wear week to week. I’ve seen Barbara Brown Taylor at preaching conferences, but in her parish ministry, she wore robes. As an episcopalian pastor, she never had to consider how those robes would hold up in an immersion baptism. I believe in believer’s baptism and in immersion whole-heartedly, but I don’t believe there were ever any instructions for what to wear while performing this beautifully sacred act, especially in congregation that don’t have baptismal robes. Taylor cites an experience she had a congregant’s house in which she was being celebrated for her work as pastor. She talks about how out of place she felt because as the party continued, people began to be thrown in the pool. They didn’t even look at her because she was the pastor and they would never consider throwing her in. She longed to be among them and not set apart from them. She longed for the distance to disappear.
I don’t think the congregation’s reaction to Taylor was purely out of the respect for their pastor. I think it might have also been because she was a woman in ministry. If you, as a women, were expected to be carefully modest growing up (or are serving a congregation in which your congregants were taught this), then the stakes are even higher as a preacher and pastor. People are going to watch more closely. People are going to be more critical. Then, there is the added pressure of being a novelty in the world (what would do you do? I am a preacher. wait, what?). Not only am I representing myself, but I am also standing up each Sunday with the knowledge that there are many women who are called to preach and pastor and have yet to find a church who would support them. I am standing for my daughters so that they may not have as much trouble becoming who they are because an outsider say they can’t pursue a certain profession because of their gender. I am standing for the women who have gone before me to teach and instruct and discuss women in ministry.
And I don’t take that lightly.
Yes, I am concerned about my wardrobe because whether we would like to admit it or not, women are still judged by their appearances and the whispers still come about whether a woman’s wardrobe is “appropriate” or not.
So, where do you buy a baptismal bathing suit that is appropriately holy?
When I started this blog, I needed the place and space to write and work through the transitions from teaching to becoming a student again. I wanted to track and trace this journey as best as I could. Most of my blog posts at the beginning were about education. I still watching and waiting to find out whether I would still have a voice in the world of education. I was wondering whether I would still be able to relate to my teaching friends.
Then, I started writing on a hidden blog prettypreacher.com to try to work through the preaching I felt called to and the preaching opportunities I was encountering. I didn’t want to announce it to everyone. I didn’t want everyone to know that I was pursuing this because I was just getting started and the possibility of failure loomed.
But know as I start my first pastorate and I prepare to journey with this amazing community, I want to bring it all back together. I want to be me and I want to take you with me on this journey.
When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt. I hope and I get discouraged. I love and I hate…to live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.
Brennan Manning is utterly honest in his book Ragamuffin Gospel. It’s refreshing to be released from the pressure of trying to be perfect.
I bought this domain as an oxymoron because so often when I tell people I am a preacher, they look at me and say that people will respond well to me because I have a pretty face. In other words, it’s not about the preparation you put in or how you probe the text and invite others to do the same, it’s all about the fact that you have a pretty smile.
That’s not what this is all about. It’s about showing young women in your congregations that they, too, have a voice and choice to pursue ministry. It’s acknowledge our whole life stories and realizing that when it comes down to it, we are all just human with a light side and a dark side. It’s about learning who we are in light of God’s unchangeable grace.
I’ve honestly never thought about how significant this day can be for those who aren’t mothers until I had friends who started to share their journeys to try to be parents and how difficult they are and until I started reading and hearing stories like this one:
Fast forward several years to Mother’s Day. A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.
Sometimes in our attempt to be relevant, we can alienate. It’s never bad to think and rethink what our message from the pulpit says and how people hear it.