Who Gets to Preach?

February 14, 2020

Preaching is an intricate art that can exhaust even the most seasoned communicator. There are few places in ministry where ego and insecurity collide with theological conviction every seven days to land on display for public scrutiny. Preaching can feel at once like a tyrannical endeavor and divine encounter and while Sunday afternoon provides a short relief, come Monday morning a blinking cursor awaits. Fifty-two weeks a year we live this cycle.

Thankfully, communicators today are easily resourced by the centuries old tradition of preaching that provides wisdom around everything from how to craft a sermon to spiritual transformation. Modern technology offers near unlimited access to dialogue around the art of preaching from Aquinas to Bishop Richard Allen to Barbara Brown Taylor. To flip open a laptop and troll hundreds of thousands of sermons is a stunning gift that is also so very new to our time.

However, with unlimited access comes unlimited commentary. As technology provides the gift of access we also find that the curse of vitriol and slander are easily accessible. In our increasingly divisive culture, debate and ego-driven diatribe now occupy more space than ever in the history of preaching and this anger often takes the form of debate over who “gets” to call themselves a preacher. “Who gets to preach,” should never be the first question we ask. In this question lies the audacity to believe we know what the Spirit of God is doing in the soul of another person. It is rooted first in our demand for a system by which to categorize who is in or out of the perceived spotlight that preaching can bring.

Sadly, conversations around preaching are now rife with anger over who is in or out of the pulpit. We can troll our social media feeds to find Twitter rants and video materials where arguments rage over who should occupy the pulpit. In the past decade, these debates have intensified and clouded the spirit of humility and service that preachers are called to embody.

In some denominations, a particular level of education or ordination is required to preach. In other settings, a staff title is necessary for the pulpit. Shock statements telling female preachers to “go home” raise up anger over whether preachers should be men or women. Still other spaces argue with bias against the ethnic background or age and generational affiliation of a preacher. Some valuing an older, seasoned leader while others are eager to hear only from rising generations or preachers who “look like them.” These debates miss the point of what it means to be called to preach.

Preachers are pastors first. Preaching is the byproduct of the pastoral office. A good pastor aches for a congregation of people in sorrow and despair. Pastors weep for this world, take aim at injustice and wear out the knees of their best pants in intercession. Pastors sit bed side and watch people slip from this life into the next to find themselves graveside a few days later. They wrestle with reliving their own trauma as they enter into the trauma of others. A pastor longs for transformation and connection with God while desperate to bring others to that same place. A pastor is with people in the ER, the courtroom, the shelter, the classroom, the home. A pastor absorbs anger, pain and the most raw and frayed edges of the human experience. A pastor who has lived with God’s people long enough to be so exhausted by these efforts that they would gladly welcome help and another voice in the pulpit — this is who gets to preach.

Only AFTER a person has committed to this kind of service should they preach. So much time is wasted arguing over who gets to preach that we are missing the chance to encourage and build up pastors who by default of doing that hard work, eventually become good preachers.

As pundits wage war on one another over who gets to preach, a silent army of pastors step with awe and wary into the pulpit every Sunday. The Spirit of God uses them to bless their people. May we as preachers find ourselves lending energy to support that tired army rather than an angry voice of dissent on our social feed.

Written by Rev. Tracey Bianchi, Interim Director of Worship and Preaching

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