I'm not the biggest fan in the world of programmed meetings in Quaker-dom, but since they're there, and since they do serve a purpose (pulling people in who agree with Quaker testimonies for the most part but wouldn't come for an hour of silent waiting), and since I'm currently serving in a community with programmed worship meetings, I do my best to preach in the Spirit when I'm called to do so.
What does it look like to preach in the Spirit? Well, I think it's different for everyone. I've come quite a long ways since first really preaching in June 2006 (you can look it up in the archives...I don't want to find the link... =) The first time I preached I felt pretty nervous, I didn't know the community I was speaking to very well, and I had a really hard time coming up with any personal stories to share with them about the topic I spoke on. I think I did fine as far as presentation--I don't think I appeared nervous, and I didn't stumble over my words or anything. But I'm not sure I was exactly preaching in the Spirit. I was preaching a message I was passionate about and that I felt led to share, but that's different. I wrote out a manuscript and read it, which went fine because I'd practiced it several times. But I wasn't able to be vulnerable, to share my soul and not just some information that hopefully would make it to people's hearts.
The next time I preached there, about a month later, I preached from the heart and shared personal stories, but I had a hard time connecting it to anything that really had spiritual depth, I felt. People appreciated learning more about me and my journey, which is good to some degree, I think, but I don't know that God was able to speak to them through me per se.
Recently I think I've become more comfortable preaching. I no longer write out the manuscript--at least if I do, I don't take it up with me, I just take an outline to look at. I think having a manuscript is good if you can truly allow the Spirit to speak through you while reading it, and sometimes I think it's important for me to have a manuscript--when what I'm saying needs to be precise, or when I might water down the message if I don't put it into specific words beforehand (e.g. my Beacon Hill talk that I posted here in May 2007).
I've found the last two times I've preached that I do much better at connecting with people, and connecting the Spirit with people, when I'm not reading. I can listen better to the random ideas that occur to me on the spot--stories that come up, jokes, better ways to explain something, examples.
Preaching this way is good for me because I like to be in control, to have it all planned out, to know how long it will take, to say it all the "right" way. But to have spent time listening beforehand, to have spent time researching and practicing and mulling and contemplating and discussing and writing, and then to go up there and continue listening in that moment, is really quite powerful. There's a different spark, a different kind of energy, that I feel when I trust the Spirit to give me words in that moment. I think it's really important to have people who feel led to take the time to do research beforehand and think and listen about the message beforehand, as opposed to just receiving it in meeting and speaking it then and there, because I think God gave us our brains and ability to do good research for a reason. That stuff glorifies God just as much as it does when we spontaneously receive a message. I truly enjoy doing the research and stewing on a topic for a month or so and then sharing the fruits of my contemplation with my spiritual community.
Another good thing about programmed meeting messages is that we can bring up a challenge to the community that we're working on personally and sense the meeting is working on. That's what I did this last week. It's hard to know, though, what is something I'm working on personally and what is something I should bring before the meeting. It's also hard when using examples from my own life, because I feel really vulnerable--like I'm sharing a lot of myself, and I'm not sure how it will be received. It's a little bit scary. But I talk about the need to be truthful in our spiritual communities, to be able to share vulnerably, and so I guess the one preaching should be the one exemplifying that. It's just interesting because of our culture's insistence on "professional distance." In Quaker preaching, we don't have that professional distance--we're all equal, any of us could have brought this message, it's just that God happened to bring it through me and my experiences. We're not on a pedestal, we're just another traveler groping toward the Light.
It's been fun to learn my style and figure out how to get in the "flow," how to allow the Spirit to speak through me better and better when I preach. I don't think I'm perfect at this yet--I have a long way to go! But I think I'm getting better. And it's more fun this way, too, because I'm more relaxed and free to share what I'm called to in that moment, with the background of having done good preparation.