Like cocktail parties, children’s birthday parties and wedding receptions.
Like the drunk uncle, most everyone’s fine with my presence there and certainly no one has the stones to ask me to leave, but nearly everyone is happier to have the preacher off in the corner where he will cause minimal embarrassment and not make the guests feel uncomfortable.
A healthy part of the discomfort, I think, is that most unchurched people presume a preacher can only talk about God.
Routine banter about politics, for example, will lead inexorably to the A or the H words, leaving polite conversation far behind.
Talk of sports will provoke inane analogies to carrying crosses and any lull in the conversation might let a foot in the door for the pastor’s church membership timeshare pitch.
But more so than any of those reasons, I think a good number of people, churched or not, assume pastors are people with 100 Proof faith.
No uncertainties. No struggles. No questions.
No nagging doubts that, like a too small blanket, refuse to wrap you up snuggly from head to toe.
Of course, the assumption that pastors are people without doubts is complete crap. Just like my mechanic knows better than me what’s likely to break next in my car, pastors spend day after day negotiating the particulars of this faith and we know, better than most, how fragile is the foundation.
I mentioned in my sermon for this weekend:
“being a pastor, I’ve heard all the reasons not to believe before and, as a Christian, I struggle with all of them myself.”
I thought it an innocuous line, but it yielded me 3 queries in the line of worshippers leaving church and 4 other rapid response emails.
They all wanted to know what it is I struggle to believe.
What questions to which I’m still seeking answers.
And what doubts make my faith remain like a too-small blanket.
Fair enough. I brought it up, and since I’m enough of a Calvinist to think the pulpit isn’t the most appropriate place to explore doubts (it’s a place to proclaim the Gospel) I can at least give space to such questions here.
Struggle/Doubt/Question #10: Scripture
As a preacher, scripture is a constant companion in my life.
Actually, scripture is more like the college suite-mate that your best friend invited along to share the apartment.
Sometimes you get along with them grand.
Sometimes, when it’s the two of you, there’s just nothing they’ve got to say to you.
Other times you want to throw them through the window because they refuse to do their share of the chores.
Because I work so much with scripture, my struggles/doubts/questions aren’t what you might expect.
I don’t struggle with whether or not scripture is the Word of God. Search ‘Word of God’ on this blog and you can read why (clue: Jesus is the Word of God). I recognize but don’t lose sleep over scripture’s antiquated or gringe-inducing sections.
No, my struggles/doubts/questions about scripture are summed up excellently by a comment ‘Tracy’ left to a post:
|...The Bible itself is contradictory, and silent on some topics.
On most really interesting subjects, we can quote scripture to arrive at completely different answers.
In other words, the bible seems more complicating than clarifying, much of the time.
‘Tracy’ didn’t say so but he/she could’ve pointed out how any scroll through Facebook will show how ‘sincere’ Christians use scripture to buttress diametrically opposed positions, perspectives and politics.
‘Tracy’ didn’t ask it but I will: one wonders how often Christians use scripture to reinforce arguments they would’ve made had they never met Jesus?
‘Tracy’ didn’t bring it home, but I will: how often do I ‘use’ scripture to decorate a decision I’ve already long since, even if subconsciously, made?
And that’s my pastor’s nagging question.
As a preacher, I know better than most how malleable the biblical text can be with the right exegesis and just enough rhetorical flair.
When so many other followers of Jesus Christ hear something quite different in a given text, how do we know what we’re hearing in the text is the Word of God?
How do we know we’re not just hearing ourselves in a subconscious, but loud, voice?
And, ‘Tracy’ might take it a step further, if we’re unsure of what God is speaking, upon what grounds can we definitively say God ever spoke?