Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ministry of The Word and Sacrament

One of my colleagues passed this along to me:

Walter Brueggemann is arguably one of the primary movers and shakers in the theological world today. His critique, sparked by a conversation with a rabbi, that we as preachers spend the bulk of our time engaged in everything but preaching or preparing for preaching, and end up devoting a few remaining hours in our week after we've exhausted ourselves with other things, strikes a little too close to home for comfort. My desk is currently strewn not with books, articles, and sermon drafts, but with catalogs, various pieces of mail, budget drafts, and various other items primarily having to do with administration and the day-to-day minutia of running a religious non-profit corporation that happens to be a church. And, yes, I generally do not get to serious sermon preparation until later in the week, occasionally even sitting in front of a computer screen on Saturday evening finishing up what I'm going to say the next morning!

That fact sparks in me a thought about the different names that we're called as ordained ministers: pastors (means "shepherd"), priests (not very much anymore), ministers (though much more ministry is done by the many church members serving in the community), and (in my case) "Father" (which places the priest in the role as "father" of the church "family", which is often less than helpful). I know if few, if any, times in which I've been referred to as "preacher"--and yet that is a key part of what I do each week: speak God's words to God's people. My ordination vows place as one my primary tasks the "ministry of Word and Sacrament", by which is primarily meant preaching and administering the sacraments. Those two tasks do not seem to have the same urgency during the week as the "running the shop" tasks do, nor are preachers generally rewarded or given points for reading and studying. If a church member or board member asks a pastor "What are you up to today?" and receives the answer "Well, doing a lot of reading and some prayer" it sounds almost as if he or she is taking a vacation! That is because most people work at jobs that not only don't require much study (and zero prayer) but often preclude study and prayer. Thus, the often unconscious reaction for most folks is "Wow, I wish that I could get paid to sit around and read and pray!"

The fact is, however, that we our primary calling is feeding the flock of Christ. Jesus' first post-resurrection commission to Peter was "feed my sheep." Putting aside the comparison of church members to sheep, as preachers and pastors we cannot give what we do not have. If we have not studied and prayed, we will give shallow, largely meaningless sermons that do not even come close to satisfying the spiritual hunger that God places in each one of us. Perhaps we need to take more seriously the rabbinical side of our calling--to be the teacher and the scholar.

One of the things that I hope and plan to do this year is to get a bit more focus on my preaching--both by setting aside more time for preparation and by focusing my continuing education funds and time on honing those skills. Preaching is one of my gifts. Administration is not. However, since others can do administration but not as many can do preaching, it makes sense to hone my strengths rather than attempting to shore up my weak areas.

No comments: