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i hate preaching – thalia kehoe rowden


The writer Dorothy Parker famously said ‘I hate writing. I like having written.’

I wonder if many of secretly feel like that about preaching. Do you love preaching, as a calling, but find parts of it terrifying or exhausting?

When I was a full-time minister, preaching most weeks to – or with, really, as I think of it – a congregation of people I loved and shepherded, I loved preaching.

The 10.45am Sunday kind of preaching, I’m talking about. The time that doesn’t feel like time, when (on a good day) you stand there, building, brick by phrase by idea, a bridge between God and these people you love. The time when you look out at these people you love, and the extraverts nod and the introverts hold your gaze. The time when God’s Holy Spirit takes your words and pictures, your challenges and consolations and draws some of them to the attention of your listeners – and often not the bits you thought were most important.

On Sunday mornings, I loved preaching.

Like Dorothy Parker, I loved having preached, too. Hearing someone’s response or question at morning tea. Finding out a year later that your words quietly made a difference you didn’t know about.

But that was then. I’m not a full-time minister anymore. I’m a full-time mother of a toddler who disapproves of his mother preaching – or at least preaching without him at the pulpit. So now my only preaching is the occasional sermon to someone else’s congregation, and that’s a whole nother kettle of tofu.

The pastor at North Porirua Baptist Church asked me to preach there on Mothers’ Day this year, to speak about my experience of postnatal depression. I was glad to do so – I love preaching, remember? I prepared a cross between a sermon, a personal story, and an introduction to PND and it practically wrote itself.

But on the Saturday night, I said to my homie ‘Next time I’m considering a speaking engagement, can you please remind me that I don’t actually like preaching?’

Every time I have preached at someone else’s church over the last year, I have barely slept the two nights before, in between nightmares of forgetting the sermon entirely or not being able to lift my voice over an unruly crowd of Baptists throwing paper darts and fruit at each other across the church (yes, real dream).

On the Saturday night, I said with Dorothy Parker, ‘I hate preaching! I love having preached.’

But on Mothers’ Day Sunday, at 10.45am, I loved preaching. Even though I didn’t know these people, we stepped together into the time that isn’t time. I spoke. Some nodded, some held my gaze. Some cried.

In conversation after the service, it was clear that God’s Holy Spirit had been using my words about hope in sadness to connect these people to the mighty and tender God of the Universe. All sorts of different words – not always the ones I’d thought most important.

When it’s not the night before a guest sermon, I wouldn’t say, following Dorothy Parker, that I hate preaching but love having “praught.” But in this season of preaching to other people’s congregations, I find that I love preaching but hate anticipating it. Presumably it’s a fear of the unknowns (maybe at this church they do throw fruit!), so I suppose I need to remind myself of the knowns.

It is my experience that the act of preaching is a dance done together by God, preachers and churches.

It is a great mystery.

It is utterly unlike other kinds of public speaking which rest on a single person’s performance.

It is nothing like your practice the night before.

The efficacy of the preaching has surprisingly little to do with the excellence of the delivery, because the preacher’s words are simply tools that God’s Holy Spirit uses to tune up the conscience and character of the congregation. God is the real preacher. God’s pretty good at it and doesn’t mind using imperfect tools.

I know these things. So once I’ve done my preparation and practice, I really should lighten up. And maybe even get some sleep.

I’d be interested to hear which parts of the preaching process are most fun and scary for each of you. Prayer, study, writing, editing, practising, nightmaring, preaching, dodging fruit, reflecting, discussing: which hold the most terror, enjoyment or comfort for you?

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