I am currently teaching an intensive preaching course within an MA program at Carson-Newman College in Tennessee which started last Friday. It is always stimulating to be thrown into a fresh context, and working with these busy pastors and church leaders has opened my eyes to some new as well as old issues.
One of the old issues deserves a mention. Early on one of the pastors (with many years experience and a very demanding church situation) poured out his frustration. 'I really believe in preaching and want to give my best but I find it almost impossible to be able to fit everything in around my pastoral work and leadership. I would like to be able to section off large parts of my week in order to prepare my two Sunday sermons. I hear from 'big name preachers' how this is the most important thing I do and that I should spend 25 hours a week on my preaching. But I am so bound up with my people and their needs and the work in the community....it's so frustrating that I never have as much time as I would like. I never get it right.'
It became clear that he was a disciplined pastor who was not running away from the hard work of preparation but was genuinely caught up in the tensions of shepherding his flock and trying to keep a balance. How much I sympathize. I believe that the genuine pastor of the flock who undershepherds for the sake of the Good Shepherd is focusing on a key aspect of ministry. Loving your people is a top priority. Indeed, out of such pastoral relationships comes the 'real-life stuff 'which gives sermons their context and bite.
As the class responded I found myself saying odd words for someone who is passionate about preaching. I commented: 'Preaching is important but it's not that important!' Yes, we must give our best but that is always within the context of pastoring our people. Of course there are big names who have distinctive preaching ministries that touch the thousands. But most of us are called to be ambassadors of Christ within the communities where we serve and love. Sermon preparation should never be sidelined or treated casually. Each week we should give our very best. But it is relative to the other pastoral issues which, feed into,nurture and deepen the preaching act. It's important but not that important. I am not sure that I expressed this as clearly as I might but do you think there is a point here?