My friend Doug Gay has recently written a book on preaching entitled: ‘God Be In My Mouth: 40 ways to grow as a preacher’ (due to be released I believe in January 2018). I am sure that some, including some of his friends have wondered, if not said, ‘why bother?’. It seems to me that for many preaching is an anachronistic event that is tolerated rather than welcomed in many a service.
On the other hand there are those, often preachers, who in various way and for various reasons defend the practice as relevant, important, if not indeed central to Christian worship. Here I confess my complicity even as I prepare to take up a post as an Associate Professor in Preaching and Worship (John Gladstone Chair Acadia Divinity College).
The above may represent two conversations passing one another by. Indeed this morning I read a blog post that was all about what preachers need to do if they wish to communicate with ‘millennials’ (a strange universalizing of a group for a supposedly contemporary approach!). To me the post read as: ‘if you have got to preach can you at least do this to make it bearable and as quickly as possible’.
‘To Preach or Not to Preach’ is not a new question (see Norrington for whom it was an ‘urgent question’ several years ago) yet there is a resilience (or perhaps a resistance to going away) in the practice.
Despite all the critique – in a remarkable range of ecclesiological formats (institutional, emerging, missional) ‘preaching’ takes place Sunday by Sunday. As such it is a practice of the Church that requires to be explored in the conversation between these two positions above, not separately, so that if and as it continues it becomes a meaningful space for encounter between people and people, ideas and convictions, and indeed God and us.
But as I said, even as I write I betray my complicity in thinking that there is something significant in the human frailty of this event (speaker, voice, listeners, shared time and space etc) that enables an encounter with the divine (Word and Spirit).