When I sat down after preaching recently, the first thought which went through my mind was “maybe this will be the time when they have finally had enough of my liberal preaching and will throw me out.” Then I thought “@!#$ it!” How is that for a holy, meditative frame of mind?
Then I spent the rest of the service thinking about how wonderful this congregation is, what good and often difficult work they do, how I don’t do enough for them, etc. Well, along with things like “my tooth hurts, I have to remember to make a dentist appointment”... “I wonder if I will remember who gets gluten free today”... “jeepers that communion wafer was crunchy”... and other random thoughts. Pastors are people too. My point is I didn’t think “!@#$ it” because I don’t care or think poorly of the people in the pews. I thought those thoughts because it can be exhausting to know my beliefs differ from those to whom I am preaching and to continually attempt to figure out what I can say which will be true to what I believe without causing extreme anger or hurt. Again this isn’t about anything being wrong with those to whom I am preaching. I am not sure I have ever preached to a congregation where there weren’t a significant portion with beliefs very different from my own. Changes in my own faith in recent years accentuate these differences. The question is what to do about it?
I found myself wondering if I was being hypocritical. I have been annoyed with some of my colleagues who seem to believe they should just preach the truth as they see it and if people get upset it is just proof those people are sinful jerks. Or proof the preacher is a prophet. How different is it for me to decide I have to preach what I do even if it makes people angry?
Maybe I am fooling myself but I think the difference is I try not to go after a topic with a sledgehammer when more delicacy might be helpful. My goal is not to prove others are jerks or to make myself into a prophet. My goal is to speak truth in ways which might move someone to greater compassion or to work toward justice. I don’t feel like I am in the pulpit to speak the truth and never mind the consequences. I feel like the point is for my words to have some effect. Usually the best way to do this is more subtle than telling people they are wrong or casting about judgment. How to speak truth in a way which might have a chance of changing hearts? The really tricky thing for me is my theology is so different from many in my area I often don’t realize how controversial my words are until they are coming out of my mouth. So, maybe I am doing no better than my sledge hammer of truth wielding colleagues.
Assuming we want our pastors to speak honestly about what they believe and since it is doubtful we will always agree with them, how would you like pastors (or politicians, or teachers or whomever) to speak about controversial issues? What are some methods of communication which you have found helpful, refreshing, or at least less offensive? What gives you pause to ponder rather than provoking defensiveness?