To Preach the Word
In the liturgical calendar, August 8 is the day to remember St. Dominic (1170-1221) who founded the Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans. The prayer for the day asks for “an urgent longing to share the Gospel.”
It reminded me of the 1970 session of the Florida Annual Conference when I placed my hands on the bible and Bishop James Henley, in a raspy, Southern voice that sounded ancient to me at the time, said the traditional words, “Take thou authority to read the Holy Scriptures in the church of God and to preach the Word.”
I’ve always felt that I was called to be a preacher. The ministry has also included being a pastor, teacher, and church leader, but my first calling was to “preach the Word.” The good news is that it’s been a calling that matched my gifts, passions and interests with the need of the church. Although I often said that for preachers, Sundays come around with disturbing regularity, the challenge of connecting the truth of scripture with the people of the congregation never ceased to demand everything I could give to it.
What Preachers and Lawyers Have in Common
It goes without saying (which has never stopped me from saying something anyway!) that the title “preacher” often takes a well-deserved beating in our culture. There are more than enough corrupt, self-righteous, judgmental, greedy, manipulative, shoddy and downright heretical preachers to give anyone who is called to this work good reason to be cautious about using the term.
I figure that preachers have a lot in common with lawyers on this one. Lawyers have to endure all of the bad examples and bad jokes about their work. I never told mother-in-law jokes because I had such a great one and I never told lawyer jokes because I knew so many good ones. People love to criticize or make fun of lawyers until they need one. Suddenly, their attorney becomes one of the most important people in their lives.
My experience as a preacher — and now, as an ordinary worshipper in the pew — is that faithful, creative, down-to-earth preaching still matters. The ways we do it continue to change, but it is still through “the foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21) in the life of a warm-hearted, welcoming congregation that people experience the reality of the gospel and are encouraged along the way of their discipleship.
But effective preaching doesn’t just happen. It is the result of the Holy Spirit at work in the life of the preacher and congregation through a lot of hard work on the part of the preacher. Very few people have any idea of just how much time and effort it takes to do this job well or the critically important role of the congregation in the ministry of preaching.
As I prepared to retire from pastoral ministry, I sensed that a part of God’s continuing call in my life was to do whatever I could to encourage, support, and equip other preachers. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do that through the Institute of Preaching. We’re beginning our ninth year of working with preachers and their congregations to help each participate to become the best preacher he or she is capable of being. The experience continues to convince me that it really matters.
I think St. Dominic would be pleased.
For the Next Generation
I received word this week that donations and commitments have reached the basic goal of establishing a scholarship in my name at Duke Divinity School. I’m humbled by and grateful for the response. The team is now aiming toward the second goal of designating the scholarship for United Methodist students from Florida. If you or someone you know would be interested in participating in it, you can find more information here. Thanks for your support for the next generation of men and women who will “preach the Word.”
Grace and peace,