Kiwis are renowned, at least within NZ, for their ingenuity that “makes do” with number eight fencing wire (and a few people rattling their dags) to solve a dizzying array of problems. We are proud of our resourcefulness and enjoy declaring that, “she’ll be right,” when we have jimmied up a solution to what seemed a dead end. With this pride for our resourcefulness can come a disdain for thoughtful reflection. In fact, careful reflection is often seen as the antithesis of productivity in the Kiwi culture of anti-intellectualism. When I was a mechanic, colleagues took pride in shaming any expert who came to teach us new methods on how to repair cars a ‘better’ way. In the eyes of my colleagues, these paper mechanics spent too much time thinking up their methods and theories, which made sense in their labs, and too little time actually fixing things in the real world. Paper mechanics might be able to pass all the exams but they weren’t much use with a spanner in their hand, nor their theories useful beyond the settled conditions of the lab. What I learnt was that thinking, reflection and study were bad excuses to get out of the work we needed to get on with. I have noticed that the same pressures to get on with the real work of doing something can come to bear on preachers.
When it comes to preaching, preachers are often pressured, either implicitly or explicitly, into making do with a DIY job on the sermon in the hope that, “she’ll be right.” After all, they need to get on with the real work of doing something. Much of the church’s ministry is driven by Kiwi pragmatism that divides doing something from reflection. The theology stuff might be interesting in the lab of theological study, but in the rough and tumble of real world ministry it regularly doesn’t cut it. Rather than wasting time in sermon preparation or cultivating the life of study and prayer, the pastor is called to do something. The result is often snatching after the next best out of the box answer and proclaiming, “this is something, let’s do it!” However, in the rough and tumble of real life, there are people who need a deeper word than this. Many in our churches crave the chance to swim at the deep end of the pool and hear a deeper word. Tom Long has argued that the greatest sin facing the modern church is the sin of superficiality. Those who are suffering are often offered band-aid theology from pulpits to heal their broken hearts or broken world, whilst a new vision is cast for the church to get on and get something done. But, what if she won’t be right? What if rattling your dags makes no difference to the bone-jarring pain or loss of hope that many in our churches face? Cultivating the life of study and reflection for the ministry of Word and prayer is not getting out of work, it’s getting into work. Serious study of the scriptures and the Christian faith is neither academic nor scholarly but churchly. It is some of the hardest and most important work preachers can do so that they give constant patient attention to Christ and his gospel. After all, it is he, not number eight fencing wire, that is the hope of the world.