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the unnecessary pastor – brett jones

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I found myself in a recent encounter with Dawn and Petersen’s “The Unnecessary Pastor” and began to question the “necessariness” of the preacher.  As often happens in these fascinating internal monologues, I discovered some resonance with both trajectories – becoming less necessary and more necessary…

The strength of the idea that “the pastor as preacher is unnecessary” gives voice to a troubling dynamic that is sometimes present for the preacher.  The three arenas of dysfunctional necessity defined in the book are the world, ego and the congregation.  These three sources of influence can become unhelpful for the preacher who can find herself questioning what the non-Christian (world) will think of the offence of the gospel, elevating her ability to influence the congregation through preaching beyond what God might do (ego) and trapped in the cycle of congregational feedback and approval (congregation).  A discomfort with this sense of all not being well can lead to a withdrawal from the sense of call that preaching requires.  We end up preaching for others or ourselves but not speaking of God.  As a wise person once said, “The greatest problems with my preaching all arise if my ‘self’ forgets its rightful place.”

I love how Barbara Brown Taylor describes the preacher as a less a principal player and more as a “go-between, a courier” serving 2 ancient lovers.  This is poetically appealing, but in its attempt to define the unnecessary, perhaps it devalues the necessary.  I don’t want to elevate myself but surely I’m more than a go-between with little of myself to give?

The alternative source of necessity modeled by Paul is that of the call of Christ himself.  This is a call to nurture and protect – this kind of preacher is very necessary.  A well-guarded sense of call provides the antidote to the unnecessary preaching temptation but it also provides the preacher with a sense of presence and purpose that is not internally derived.  I am not just a go-between.  I am an ambassador.  And my commitment to translating eternal truths, the diplomacy of effective illustration and offering empathetic application is needed if relationship with God is to be nurtured and protected.

Perhaps this sense of call will lead us as preachers to become unnecessary insofar as the dysfunction of being needed drives the preaching impulse.  But it will also lead us as preachers to embrace the office of preacher as calling.  The office of preaching needs the needs the imprint of personality without being reduced to it.  And for that to happen we must be called by the necessity of the gospel.

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