I guess I have to admit to being a “recovering pastor” - perhaps suffering from all kinds of unknown post-traumatic stress which rises to the surface when I come into contact with things such as: church politics; people walking away from church because of some kind of dissatisfaction; and, the Sunday morning Church event. I’ve got lots of questions that I feel I am constantly “tripping over”. For example, what exactly is “church”? And if church is primarily about God’s new humanity/ community, what does “church” have to do with the event/performance we call Sunday morning Church service? (Okay… I’ll admit it, my language is pretty loaded.)
I also have questions about preaching and transformation. It still confuses me if I preach a great sermon and at the end of the service someone comes up to tell me how great it was – but yet there is apparently little real transformation in their lives. Is preaching simply over-rated in today’s world. How can can some communities of believers listen to great preaching week in week out and have very little impact (missionally speaking) in relation to their local communities and in the lives of their friends and family?
This morning I have been reading a Walter Brueggemann article from 1995 – “Preaching as Reimagination” – and found a couple of paragraphs helpful. (By the way… I have some major problems with some of the other stuff that Brueggemann writes):
Very few people make important changes… abruptly. Most of us linger in wistfulness, notice dissonance between our experience and the old text, and wonder if there is a dimension to it all that has been missed. (Note: when Brueggemann talks about “text” he is talking about the discourse or narrative which we have accepted and which gives shape and meaning to our lives). Most of us will not quickly embrace an alternative that is given us in a coercive way. Such coercion more likely makes us defend the old and, in general, become defensive.
Victor Turner noted that there is an in-between time and place in social transformation and relocation, which he termed ‘liminality’. Liminality is a time when the old configurations or social reality seem to be in jeopardy, but new alternatives are not at hand.
What we need for such liminality is a safe place in which to host such ambiguity, to notice the tension and unresolve without pressure but with freedom to see and test alternative textings of reality. It is my impression that very much preaching, which is excessively urgent and earnest, does not pay attention to what we know about how we change or how anyone else may receive change when it is given. The text entrusted to the preachers of the church is all about human transformation, but the characteristic modes or presentation, in many quarters, contradict the claim of the text and are enemies of transformation.
Strong words, which is fairly normal for Brueggemann, but I think they are worth pondering and chewing over. I would guess that I am in that place of liminality, as is the church in Western culture and society. The hopeful thing is that this is the place of change and transformation. There is an opportunity here, and I guess Brueggemann’s main point is that this opportunity for transformation can (ironically) be missed/lost because of the act of preaching – preaching which is coercive, rather than invitational.