Friday, November 02, 2007

quaker preaching

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.

3 comments:

Anna said...

this is a great post thank you. I understand exactly what you’re talking about here. As a member of an unprogramed meeting and as someone trying to pursue a calling in writing as ministry I do both kinds of preaching. Thanks again.

Peace and Joy,
Anna.

David Carl said...

I recently read a book by Dallas Willard, "The Great Omission," in which he recommends fasting before preaching as a way to deepen the spiritual content. I'm not a preacher, so I haven't experienced this, but you might give it a try!

Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I quite agree with you that "...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 ... God gave us our brains and ability to do good research for a reason." I will confess to you that I myself have delivered a number of carefully-written-out plenary addresses to Friends gatherings in my day, and I wouldn't have done so if the writing process hadn't felt directed by the Spirit.

But it's still important to recognize that this sort of diachronic ("diachronic" meaning extended-over-time) obedience to the Spirit, which happens when we work out a presentation long in advance, produces a qualitatively different result from immediate (instantaneous) guidance. It's immediate guidance that is most likely to produce a manifestly miraculous result — for instance, a direct seeing into the audience's immediate condition, and a bull's-eye ministry to situations in the audience's personal lives that the minister shouldn't have had any way of knowing about.

The real danger, I think, is not words-prepared-in-advance, but words-delivered-without-power. And it is interesting to me to see how often, in the first decade of the Quaker movement, the early Quaker leaders spoke to this point. They weren't concerned about speeches prepared well in advance, anywhere near as much as they were concerned about speeches given outside of God's own power.

"Live not in words," Richard Farn(s)worth wrote in 1652, "but mind the power of words: for words that proceed out of a vain, light mind, destroy the simple, and draw your minds out above the cross, to live in words; — and ... so the fleshly mind will be kept alive: — but keep in the cross. The power is the cross to the carnal part in all, and words that come from the life will go to the life, and raise up that which is pure in one another; and so you will have unity with that which is pure in one another."

And similarly, William Dewsbury wrote in 1655, "...Take heed of words; see that the witness speaks, which will cut down your own wills and minister to the witness in others, to the slaying of their wills."

It appears significant to me that in both these passages, Farnworth's and Dewsbury's, the important thing is the power that crucifies the hearer's self-directedness, i.e. the power that challenges and discredits and stops it cold ("slays it"), so that a way is opened for God's own Direction to manifest.

George Fox wrote very pointedly in 1657, "...Take heed of many words, but what reacheth to life, ... that which reacheth to the life from the life received from God, that settles others in the life..." What he meant by "that which reacheth to the life" is, obviously, the same thing Farn(s)worth meant by "power".

And again, in another letter written that same year of 1657, Fox wrote, "...None go beyond the measure of the spirit of God, nor quench it; for where it is quenched, it cannot try things. So if any have anything upon them to speak, in the life of God stand up and speak it, if it be but two or three words, and sit down again; and keep in the life, that ye may answer that of God in every man upon earth." The "trying things", and the "answer[ing] that of God in every man", are, again, ways of speaking about the challenging and discrediting and stopping-cold of the hearer's self-directedness.

Speaking in such a power and life is not inconsistent with advance research, but it has seemed to me, in my personal (and admittedly limited) experience, that the research must be done in absolute faithfulness to the power, or else the power will not manifest when the speech is finally delivered.

Speech in the power is not inconsistent with a light touch, either, and I like what you say about "...the random ideas that occur to me on the spot--stories that come up, jokes, better ways to explain something, examples." It's particularly wonderful, and a great art, to be able to laugh with the audience, in such a way that, through the process of laughter, God gains room to woo and win that audience to attentive dependence on Him. I think Jesus was skilled at that art, for there is a sparkle of laughter in many of his most trenchant parables.

God bless you and guide you on this path!