Confessions and Questions

My confession? I like to preach. In fact, there are times like the last two Sundays where I feel like it’s part of what I was born to do. I love speaking the truth that God is present. I love, absolutely love, when I can speak about God’s unending, unconditional love for us.

Why is that so shocking of a confession, you may ask? Two of the areas that draw me the most are Quakerism and the emergent movement, and both raise serious questions about one person speaking for God. This is another layer of the confusion I’ve felt, and to be honest, this one has gone on longer than my struggle with what leadership is. What do I do with the fact that I enjoy preaching, that I find God leading and moving through me as I prepare and as I speak…when I also agree with Quakers that we all can and must hear and speak the voice of God, when I also agree with emergent folks who say that preaching continues to produce passive people?

One great thing is I have Quakers AND emerging folks reading my blog. So I’d like to ask some questions, and I honestly want to hear your response. I’m not fishing for affirmation (which, I confess, I WAS doing yesterday when I wrote that I had four faithful blog readers when I know it’s more). You don’t have to let me down easy. I honestly want to know the answers.

Question 1, more generic: As the world changes (however it changes) and as the church tries to re-capture the reality of every member on a mission, is there a place for preaching? If so, what is that place?

Question 2, more personal: For those of you who know me…I guess I’m looking for help in discerning my personal call. Am I personally holding preaching in too high a place? Given who God has made me to be, what’s the best way for me to be faithful to God’s call? Ought I cut back on preaching to give more time to helping others find their call in our body at NFC?

As always, I appreciate the times when this blogging thing builds relationships and community. I hope asking these questions publicly brings a deeper level of relationship. And, I hope it’s seen by SOME of you as putting my cards on the table and gambling (you know who you are…)

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14 thoughts on “Confessions and Questions

  1. I too, hold preaching in a very high place. I have just readjusted some of my methodology and philosophy of preaching to include, for example, dialogue, open-ended questions, tension that’s not forced to resolve, etc. If God has gifted you to be a preacher- then preach the word! In season and out :)But don’t feel constrained to do it in the way that would have earned you an A in homiletics:)

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  2. Gregg,I think I hear you asking for candid/honest feedback.Would you like responses in this open forum or in a personal email/phonecall?Scott Winter

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  3. I’ve never heard you speak, but I have read some of your prepared texts, which have been wonderful. Have you considered that writing ministry and vocal ministry might be separate activities?A member of my unprogrammed Meeting unexpectedly won the preaching award at his seminary (where he went so that he could become a hospital chaplain). They especially commended his focus on preparing the minister, not the ministry.Are you prepared to preach as the Holy Spirit moves you? Without a prewritten text? Do you make time to hear the still, small voice? Are you quiet enough long enough to hear it?Have you educated yourself to understand the language that this Voice might speak to you?Are you prepared to be silent if the Spirit does not move you? Have you read some of the moving stories of early Friends, who travelled and called meetings and then had to sit there all shut up in the face of everybody who had come to hear them, because the Spirit didn’t lead them to speak that day?Can we name vocal ministry as one of your primary gifts of the Spirit? Does your Meeting community affirm this gift? Are there others in your Meeting who share this gift? Are they being nurtured or ignored? By you? By others in the community?Is the place for preaching always inside your Meetinghouse? Is the time always on First Day mornings?George Fox said something about letting your lives preach. There was some discussion of this on Martin’s blog a while ago. In writing this, I am reminded of one of my favorite bluegrass gospel songs (catchy tune!) :Do you live what you preach?Would you preach what you live?In the presence of God could you stand? Jesus knows every deed, Good or bad, from your birth.Do live what you preach in your church?In this light, there will always be a place for preaching. But it will be a more spontaneous, less practiced place. Will this be less perfect or more perfect? Bob Hyatt wrote a little about not getting it right here. But I would argue that it could be more faithful.All right. Lunch break is over. Man, I want a job where writing about Quaker ministry could even remotely be considered part of my job description.

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  4. Robin-Thank you for these very helpful and thoughtful queries. Your questions are ones I constantly wrestle with, and will do so again. They have implications as well for how we programmed Friends worship at all, let alone how I personally make some of these decisions.

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  5. Gregg,I’m a blogging neophyte and wanted to assure the open forum was the appropriate way to respond.Here are my thoughts…Response to question 1: I believe sermons are absolutely applicable and needed. I agree with Bob that the form doesn’t necessarily have to mimic what’s always been done. I’m looking for knowledge from the Bible and an encounter with Christ facilitated by someone who knows more about scripture than I do and can help make it real for me in my everyday life in ways that I cannot on my own.I am not looking for connections with other people during the service necessarily as I get that in other intentional ways in my Sunday school class and other informal small groups. Certainly, I am open to and do make connections with others around me before/after the service but I feel it’s an unrealistic expectation for that to happen during a sermon with the size of group we have in each service.Response to question 2: You are one of the most nurturing men I know Gregg. Clearly you used this skill daily when you lead the church in Idaho; a church that had recently split and needed healing. I think this is a great strength. How are you using it at NFC?In relation to your “call” – Gregg what did God call you to do when you made the decision to move your family to Oregon and become Sr. Pastor of NFC? It seems like you’ve done a lot of wheel spinning, discerning etc to understand your mission here. I have enough confidence in your relationship with Christ that you know what God’s leading is for NFC. Are you acting on that? Leadership is a tough gig. Leaders don’t always have all the answers nor do they carry out all the details to accomplish their vision…but they declare a vision and keep moving in that direction even when not everyone agrees with them. You will probably never have an absolute consensus on whatever your vision is, but does that make it any less ordained by God?I don’t know Bob Hyatt but I know people (whom I respect very much) who do know him. Bob is a dynamic guy who had a vision for a different kind of church community. With the help of others he started that church and it is growing and by all appearances it is fulfilling the vision he had. Bob doesn’t do all the work – if he did he’d implode – but I believe it is his God ordained passion and vision that keeps that church moving in the same positive direction.I want to know your vision and I want to be one of the people that help you carry it out Gregg.

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  6. Thanks, Scott, for your words and questions. I’ll think on them more. It’s a lot easier to be a dynamic guy with a vision in a church plant, then to do the same in an already existing church with history and people and its own vision. That’s what’s caused the wheel spinning. But the wheels are gaining traction, and I’m really glad that you want to join in what we see God calling us to.

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  7. Question 1: I think preaching ought to stay, but I really like the idea of it being more interactive. A few months back the preaching time started with you (or Steve) asking the congregation to share what stood out to them from that week’s reading. That was good. I’d also like to see interactive times happen throughout the sermon. I think it would keep people’s miniature attention spans better (mine included) which is a reflection on me/us not you or whomever is preaching. When you pose a question in the sermon, I’d like to hear people from the congregation give their thoughts/answers. Then I’d love to hear your answer. There’s something about having the preacher pose a question and then quickly answer it himself/herself that just feels weird to me. I can’t really put words to it, it’s just feels akward. Question 2: I think you have a wonderful gift of sitting with people one on one, naming what you see in them and what you see God doing in their lives. I’ve experienced this and I think I remember you saying you wish you had more time to spend in these types of one on one interactions. I think people are starved for this type of affirming, encouraging, truth-telling, naming, encounters. It was a unique and wonderful experience for me that I wish on everyone. I’ve also loved hearing others preach – Steve, Josh, Jo, Gregg Lamm, Irene, that’s all I can think of. Each time one of them spoke I felt I heard from God in a distinct and powerful way. So I’d say, yes, I’d like to hear from others more often and perhaps this could free up time for you to be about other things you feel called to.These are my humble thoughts.

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  8. Thanks, Marta. It’s always interesting hearing people’s perceptions and ideas. The things you’ve mentioned about interaction are things I’ve tried to do, but perhaps they don’t come across as much as I think.Thanks to all for comments, and maybe even for some of you praying. I’ve been having some thoughts come together in good ways, and welcome more input.

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  9. I think preaching is very important! I am not a Bible scholar. In fact, I have a fairly limited understanding of the Bible. While my small groups are good for support and discussion and such, they aren’t so good for teaching.I love when the pastor explains things — the meaning of the original text, the historical context, etc. — and then a passage I’ve read or heard forever suddenly becomes clear. I love to hear someone who’s done years of research and studied from scholars and knows the ancient language interpret for me.

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  10. Gregg, you said, “I love speaking the truth that God is present. I love, absolutely love, when I can speak about God’s unending, unconditional love for us.” If that doesn’t answer your own questions, I don’t know what will. Personally, I don’t know why anyone would want to preach (this coming from an introverted contemplative whose favorite tool is a pen) but you preach and I’ll write and *together* we’ll get things done because we’re the same body sharing the same gospel message in the unique way God gifted us both. My 15 year-old daughter is listening to you so I don’t particularly agree with what the emergent experts say it should or shouldn’t be for us…That doesn’t mean you can hog the pulpit. We are blessed with other gifted teachers (some of whom are just now emerging and need a good place to practice). Marta started a nice list – I’ll add Becky. If I said to you, “I find God leading and moving through me as I prepare and as I speak,” what would you tell me to do? Then do that, friend, because that’s what we need.

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  11. I feel out of place commenting after my wife posed a long list of thoughtful queries, but I’ll gamble it anyway. ;)Something in what Marta wrote really resonated for me. I think it was the part about affirming people in one-on-one situations. Our (unprogrammed) meeting’s nominating committee has paid some lip service to taking time to really discern people’s gifts and leadings when considering what roles people might play, but the reality has fallen short of what little vision we’ve expressed.Last night I lay awake for a time and had a leading, a reminder really, that “Love is the first motion.” And I had an image of God creating each and every moment in the universe. (Not original with me; I have a book that quotes it as being from the Sufi tradition.) Anyway, I imagined being in meeting for worship, standing up to name each individual present and confirm God’s love for every person in the room. I’ve imagined this before, and have never been led to carry it out in an actual meeting. However, it is a powerful image for me, and I offer to you it in the hope that it might resonate with you as senior pastor as well.

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