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the chronic fatigue syndrome of preaching in nz – andy shudall

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There’s is a chronic fatigue syndrome in our churches and it is laying people low. Its symptoms are many and its impact is systemically evidenced. It is found behind our lecterns, pulpits and music stands.

Preachers are tired – chronically tired – of preaching God’s Word.

We download sermon outlines, pass off googled illustrations as examples from our own lives, we cut and paste chunks of spoken text and pass it off as borrowing, not plagiarism, because there’s nothing new under the sun right? We peddle truth as though it were a little thing, cheap and cheerful and not the great treasure that it is, for we would not want to wear down those who cannot handle the weight of the riches of the text.

We lean on commentators and scholars before we dig into the text for ourselves, we smooth over rough territory for fear of offending others, indolently wander through the pastorally rich soil of the manure of others’ lives whilst pointing at the flowers of purple patches in Scripture’s great and varied plains. We take the easy roads rather than the paths of challenge, comforting where we should disturb the comfortable.

We give laws for success, rules for happy living, guides for victory and ways for regular giving. We ask for money but not for surrender, request action but not repentance, commitment without conformity to Christ. We encourage and exhort but not correct or rebuke. We, whose lips should be bridled by the bit of Christ’s truth, take license to interpret sin as service and rebellion as rehabilitation. We take the mantle of the Pharisees and wear it with designer labels, pointing at the imagined other, in order to make ourselves feel more at home, at peace, in place and powerful.

There is a chronic fatigue syndrome in our churches – people, our congregants, choose not to listen to God’s voice, refuse his authority, deny his sovereignty, question his goodness, redefine his love, spurn his compassion, ignore his character, begrudge his grace, rebuff his call, negate his beauty, rebuff his mercy, disbelieve his word, reject his truth and say ‘good word today pastor’.

We’d rather sing empty “oh”s and “ah”s, or words so arcane that no one gets much more than their gist. We’d prefer to have silence, or songs, or pictures, or practices, or passion, or prayers or any thing – ANY THING – than to teach and preach, proclaim, explain, expound and apply the acute edges of God’s Word in all its complexity and variety. We’d forgo twenty minutes of patient preaching for a thousand hours of results producing activity. We choose productivity over faithfulness, management over hermeneutics, and leadership over pastoring.

It is wearing us down and we are tempted to retreat into ear scratching and itch twitching in our preaching – but, unlike chronic fatigue syndrome in the human body, the body of Christ has a remedy that is readily but not easily available.

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:1-5

One Comment

  1. Anthea Fairbrass says:

    I love reading these posts. There doesn’t seem to be much discussion happening, though – or perhaps I’m missing it. So here’s my 2c worth:

    I’ve noticed that there is something of a tendency for churches to refer to the sermon as a “talk” or “message,” and the one bringing it as a “speaker,” rather than a preacher – just check out a few websites! What is the thinking behind this trend? Do you think it could be symptomatic of a diminished view of the preaching role? (Just asking!)

    For me, talking is what we do in the fellowship time after the formal part of the service ends; I don’t want to hear someone use the pulpit for a “talk.” Our churches need someone who has dug into God’s word, prayed over it, meditated on it, and lived it, who can then declare it to us with full weight of passionate conviction, whether it be a comforting or confronting word. We want to know that they know that they are proclaiming the very word of God. Could it be lack of this that is contributing to listener fatigue?

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