I watched Pastor Adam Donner of Glenkirk Church preach a homily this weekend at a memorial service that was one of the best of its genre. Adam had a conversational, over-the-back-fence kind of tone. If he had notes in front of him, I couldn’t see them. Occasionally he would pause, make eye contact with someone in the audience, and then tell a story about that person in particular and that person’s relationship with the man whose life we were honoring. It was uniquely personal and comfortable for what can be so painful for a family. On top of that, he really told me about Jesus. And not just about Jesus, but about what it’s like to kind of be unsure about who Jesus is and then to come close to Jesus for the first time. It was a uniquely strong moment in preaching, but seemingly so casual and comfortable.
So here’s the grand generalization about preaching. In this post-60’s hippie apocalypse we know as postmodernity, that’s exactly what preaching should be. Doug Pagitt has written a singularly awful book about preaching, announcing simply that preaching doesn’t work. I would say it doesn’t work if you don’t know why you’re doing it. But Adam knew it this weekend. In a world where children are not taught a
basic respect for authority, or worse, much the opposite, preaching still functions extremely well. But only if you talk in a normal voice instead of the voice your seminary professors used, talk to the people you’re looking at, by name, instead of people in your blogosphere, wear jeans instead of a suit, lose the pulpit, speak from your own failures rather than know-it-all-ness, and hurt with people who hurt.
Preaching hasn’t gone anywhere. I’ve seen it recently. It just isn’t what your parents listened to anymore.