Dismantle the ‘Preacher Mystique’

“Figure out what you can do that no one else can do. Make yourself indispensable.” 

So goes the typical economic survival pro-tip.

I got my first “grown-up job” in 2008. It was surreal. My father had gotten laid off for the second or third time in a decade, the housing market was collapsing, banks were teetering, and everyone was worried that they’d end up broke.

I, on the other hand, had earned my M.Div. I had gotten a call to be a pastor. I finally had good health insurance and a steady pay check.

I distinctly remember thinking: “You know, there are a lot of really boring, lousy preachers. If I can stay in the top 25%, I’ll be able to make a living for the rest of my life. Even if church budgets plummet, churches will still need a preacher. I can do it, and I can do it better than a lot of people who are currently paid to do it. I’ve got a corner on the market. I’m indispensable!”

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In the world of preachers, we make ourselves indispensable by acquiring esoteric insider knowledge through sequestering ourselves in a bricks-and-mortar seminary. We carefully cultivate the mystique with which we cloak our special calling. We guard our hermeneutical and homiletical secrets as proprietary knowledge. We use words like “hermeneutical” and “homiletical” to further shroud our practices in mystery. Only insiders may know what we actually do on a Thursday afternoon in the solitude of our study, surrounded by our lexicons, concordances, and commentaries.

Perhaps I overstate things. But—and I also ask those outside of the (self-)esteemed guild of preachers—isn’t there a good bit of truth to this?

We derive value and ensure our economic survival by being the only one in our congregation who can do this mysterious thing we do: preach.

I don’t know. Why does preaching have to be some special trade that only Preachers can ply?

Preaching is simply proclamation. In the book of Acts, as Steve Timmis and Tim Chester point out in Total Church, there are no sermons inside of church buildings behind wooden boxes. There were no messages that were prepared in a preacher’s study for hours and hours the week prior. Instead, the preaching in Acts happens before angry street mobs and in front of hostile judicial councils. And the church grew like crazy.

We want people to become more and more confident that they can read the Bible, understand what it says, apply it to their life, and challenge others to receive its message. Is there a better way to demonstrate that this is normal than to have an everyday Christian believer get up in front of his spiritual family and tell them of the fantastic grace of Jesus, and issue the stunning summons to follow him? Is there a better way to encourage every follower of Jesus to become a faithful witness-bearer than to have them hear the faithful witness of normal brothers on a regular basis?

Proclamation happens on all kinds of levels, in all kinds of contexts. But for it to happen across the scope of the Christian life, as a normal, everyday thing, we need to dismantle the ‘preacher mystique’. We need to show people how to speak forth the word with confidence. And then we need to let a bunch of them actually get up and do it.
 

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