Craft of Preaching

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Field notes from preachers you trust -- Nathan Aaseng, Patricia Tull and others.

Okay, I Have No Friends but I Do Have Good News

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Last week in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, there was a small blurb stating the obvious:

"Most Clergy are Lonely." This counts as news. 'News' these days is a slippery slope because more often than not, it's usually the obvious or it's 'facts' promoted by badly-behaved, over-bloated suits railing against the battle du jour.

This is precisely why I love weather people so much; they tell you exactly what you really need to know. Should I wear my heavy coat or can I get away with something lighter? Will I feel the sun on my face today or should I stick an umbrella in the car? Should I get those tires replaced? They tell you what you what's really news. Weather people are our current day prognosticators, our diviners of the daily.

So it wasn't truly news to read that most pastors feel lonely and discouraged at times, although it was also reported that most pastors -- a whopping 98% -- feel privileged to be a pastor. It can be wonderful job AND difficult, especially when you find yourself taking care of so many others' needs and your own fall by the wayside or discover you are being criticized for things over which you have no control.

A couple years ago, my friend Nadia Bolz-Weber called me and asked "How do you get time off in this job?" because today with cell phones and Facebook and laptops at home, boundaries around work and free time are harder to set. "A medical emergency," I said because I had just had an appendectomy which gave me some lovely nap time with good meds. This week my friend Linda Nafziger-Meiser sent me a copy of her own list on how to deal with pastoral stress and I laughed out loud and then started to cry when she wrote "relax with friends who have no immediate plans for my improvement."

So much of facing our pastoral identity is putting up with all these folks who have suggestions for us based on their own needs about how they can help fix things. You can say all you want about any job worth its salt having its struggles and remind me of systems theory and personal projection onto clergy but the bottom line is, sometimes, both things are true: we feel incredibly privileged to do what we do and it's sometimes discouraging and lonely.

So what keeps us going? We pastors are one of the few jobs left that still falls under the category of a generalist -- and I doubt most congregational members know that. They really never stop to contemplate that their expectations of us are unreasonably high. Yet, even if we were honest with them and told them how we are great at some things and how barely adequate we are at others, would that change anything? Probably not.

But -- and this is huge -- I also lead preaching labs at Luther Seminary and every time I ask students why they are taking on debt and uprooting families and leaving good jobs or working two or three crummy jobs, they all say the same thing: they HAVE TO tell people about God's love. Well, kudos to them because these seminary students are in good company. Because so did Jesus. And Paul. And Barth. And Luther. And maybe your grandmother, and maybe you too. Maybe you too.

Maybe you can't imagine not telling people about Christ and this love of God enfleshed in the Trinity and how the Holy Spirit blesses the most unlikely of people and things and places. In a world where blessing is understood too often as material wealth this seems newsworthy to me.

Maybe this gospel got stuck in your craw and all you can do is talk it out. Yet it's still an amazing thing and it catches my heart every time: why do people keep doing this, time after time, in and through time? Why do people find themselves leaving their fishing nets or good job as a university professor or tax collector and moving or commuting simply to have a lonely, discouraging job?

Because it is a privilege to tell people about God's love. It is. Because it's the only thing in this world that matters and we know that. Because it's the only news living for, for it is this Good News of Jesus Christ who dies for us, and then, gives us life. In fact, it might not only be good news, it might be the only news, not just now but also for all our forevers.

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