Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Story or Argument

On Sunday I preached at the main morning service in an English-speaking congregation - which in our circuit is a great privilege. In response to comments at my one trial service that my exegesis was poor I thought I would preach a real 'old-fashioned' exegetical sermon. Afterwards as I analysed how the sermon went, I felt on one hand that I wasn't 'old-fashioned' enough. I didn't draw every element of the text into my argument or explanation, although it had been there in my preparation. I didn't communicate the richness that was there.
On the other hand, I felt that the people were tuning out too often and I needed more 'story' and less 'argument'. I suppose that is the balance to look for - enough illustrations but not too many.
I'm not really sure how many people are actually interested in 'cause and effect' type argument. I don't know how much impact it really has on them. They would rather be drawn into a story and challenged by it - perhaps by their reactions to the circumstances described, perhaps by the reactions and actions of the characters, whatever. Very few people, I think, especially younger than, say 50, are really willing to apply their minds to a sermon.
So I'm struggling with this.
But part of it is the local preacher thing - I preach only very occasionally to this congregation. Perhaps with this sort of preaching consistently a congregation can be trained to listen more carefully and perhaps critically.
The challenge for me is to preach genuinely from the Bible but also so that people can understand without too much effort.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Intellectual Christianity

Here's a question that I've been asking myself. Do we expect Christians to be intellectuals? With our emphasis on the Bible and exegesis? I guess I tend to 'look down' on people who look for Christian experiences - perhaps going to worship services wanting to be 'touched' on a regular basis. Because I want them to grapple with the real meaning of Christianity. I want them to have an informed understanding. I look at events like the Mighty Men Conference with an underlying feeling that they promote superficial Christian experience. But why is that experience less valid or meaningful than my intellectual understanding of Christianity? Some people are never going to understand the concept of justification by faith. Or care whether the Kingdom of God is a here and now thing or something we have to die to get. They need to believe in something bigger than themselves. They need to know that someone important loves and accepts them. And maybe it is all about emotions and feelings for them. We put ministers and pastors through academic seminaries and so get intellectuals. And to be honest, are we out of touch with the needs of the majority of the population?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Central Synod Experience

I am currently sitting in the synod of the Central District of the Methodist Church. Yesterday was d-day for my candidating journey. Those looking to be accepted into training for the ordained ministry needed to give their testimony and call to ministry for the 'last' time. Synod broke into small groups to hear us all more efficiently. It wasn't too stressful, in the end. I had a really supportive group and met some interesting characters. I was led to expect that there would be very few questions, if any. I don't think anyone told the committee that. However, they seemed happy with me and the actual synod voted me (and all the others) in. So now the next step is stationing and acceptance by the Methodist Conference. The odd thing is that I didn't feel anything. Not relief. Not excitement. Just nothing. I think I need a holiday!
My reactions to synod in general - well it is living up to expectations of not being very entertaining. Actually, it is perhaps less bad than I anticipated.
I have come to realise, though, in the last two days how cynical and pessimistic I have become. It's partly stress of trial this and that. Partly stress from the uncertainty about next year. Also some stress from my day to day work. I definitely need a break.
But I still very sure of what I am doing and I'm looking forward to next year. God is good.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Community Pressure

About ten days ago I spent some time at our Local Preachers Association District Convention. I am glad to do this as an attempt to encourage racial mixing in the affairs of the Local Preachers. What struck me from some incidents at the Convention was the power of community over people - particularly in the African tradition. And as the reverse, my (I'm white!) enormous need for independence and 'don't tell me what to do'. At one point there was some very slight friction between our circuit representatives and the district reps. My reaction was - not seriously - let's go make our own association, we don't need to be here. This horrified one lady who said 'no - we need to be with the community, it is not good to go out and be on your own' or words to that effect. Now, what she says is good and true. But in my mind not good and true when the community is telling people to spend money they do not have and is in general putting a large amount of pressure to do things that do not make sense to me. Now the people will do these things. They will pay money - even if they don't know what it is used for. They will wear different clothes because they are told to, even if they must go buy them on domestic worker wages. And if anyone objects, they are virtually pariah's.
I see this and I begin to understand Zimbabwe. The community rules. If you separate or say something different, the question is not 'does this make sense?' The question is 'is this from the community leaders?' And so the community says 'vote Zanu-PF' and they don't question they follow. Because to separate from the communty is unthinkable.
From a western - I suppose this is existentialist - point of view, it is unthinkable to follow the crowd like a sheep. We are all responsible for ourselves and our communities. If I follow a course of action that I believe will damage the community, I am guilty of that damage if it happens.
I can reconcile many things in my mind, accept many different points of view, compromise in many ways, but I really struggle with this disparity. I cannot just follow where I believe danger lies. I cannot follow a leader that I do not trust and believe credible - although I will suspend my own judgement when I am convinced of the fitness of my own leaders.
This is not easy and runs very deep in most of us.