This year for Christmas, my eight year boy gave me a DVD of Leonard Cohen’s: ‘Songs from the Road’, which highlights his world tour of 2008/2009. Whenever I find myself getting too upbeat and optimistic, I can listen to a bit of Leonard to let the melancholy back in. Actually this particular DVD is classic with all the hits: Hallelujah, Suzanne etc. One poem that he recites (and Leonard is first a poet,) caught my attention. It includes the following:
“you raise me up in grace,
then you put me in a place,
where I must fall.”
Wonderfully depressing – Leonard at his best!
I think he is referring to the audience and the adulation of his large army of supporters who tend to place the performer on a platform so high and so dangerous to his own ego, that at some point he must fall.
I wonder if preachers can ever be placed on a similar pedestal by the congregation they preach to. Certainly it has never happened to me – no likely chance of that Stu! Quite the reverse most would say! But the temptation for congregations to do just this is very real. The spokesperson for God gets elevated to place that their imperfect humility cannot sustain. It begins in grace but turns into something closer to idolatry as the congregation begins to worship God’s preacher rather than Jesus Christ.
This temptation, which is a trap for preacher and congregation alike, has always been around but I suspect there is certain aspect of today’s western culture that makes us perhaps more susceptible to fall. Preaching today in New Zealand, and I suspect in many western countries around the world, there is great temptation and pressure to offer more of you. There is hunger for ‘authenticity and transparency’ (whatever they might be), that can lure a preacher into more and more self-disclosure and less and less God disclosure. In my own context I know the sermons I preach that contain more stories about myself and my stumbling faith, get well received. I have to constantly ask myself the question, “is this personal story revealing Christ in me, or am I offering something less?”
As Cohen’s poem indicates, the encouragement from our hearers begins well, even in grace. The preacher who has pushed through their first decade of preaching in one church, understands the seasons of honeymoon, grace, patience, concern; but then what? If your church is more interested in your story than Gods story and if subtly over time you become complicit in allowing your name and reputation to become great, it is a recipe for a fall.
So how do we ensure we are proclaiming God’s word in a way that we are heard in this climate of transparency without elevating our name? We can pray John’s statement of Jesus: He must become greater; I must become less, but I am learning it ain’t always that easy.
I wonder what you think?
How much of me is too much?
I wonder what you do to ensure Jesus is the one who is lifted up?