Preacher as scout

swiss flag in fog

Is it ever okay to sound less than confident when preaching?

I ask not because I’ve been feeling confused lately about what I believe. I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that.

I ask because of a joke I told that started me thinking.

Here’s what happened: I gave a presentation this week before a group of pastors and worship leaders titled “Top 5 Reasons Multi-Cultural Churches Flourish.” At the beginning, in an unscripted, ad-lib sort of way, I said, “I’m still new to my congregation in Zurich, so these are my initial observations, always subject to revision. But because I’m a preacher, I’m going to say them with full conviction anyway.”

I was surprised by the amount of laughter the joke received, but later (as I often do) I started to wonder about it. Were they laughing because everyone knows how confident preachers sound about whatever they happen to be saying? I suppose the joke works only if it’s heard that way, but the enthusiastic response, I have to say, was unnerving to me.

People must notice how cocksure we preachers can be, and they must wonder how that’s possible, not just with the big things, but with the little ones too.

If preachers were occasionally hesitant or unsure about something, wouldn’t it be okay if they said so, acknowledged with honesty and humility that they were still sorting it out, still trying to understand with greater clarity?

I’m pretty sure I would not want a preacher who aired her doubts and misgivings about Christian faith in the Sunday message. I have something different in mind here.

Some years ago I read that a preacher is like a scout who has been called and trained to go ahead and peer into the fog, reporting back what she has seen and heard. Such a preacher presents herself to the congregation as a fellow traveler, but one who has a special responsibility to look ahead, to figure things out.

I have always liked that image. It invites the hearers to join the journey and be part of the conversation. The downside, I suppose, is that a hesitant scout doesn’t inspire much confidence. “This is what I think right now, but you never know what might happen tomorrow.”

I might look for a new scout.

Just so you know: I don’t spend much time re-thinking the historic creeds and doctrines of the church. God created the heavens and the earth? Not a problem for me. But I do wonder sometimes about a few of his creatures. What was he thinking?

Is it okay to say that?

(Maybe you’ve notice a little tweaking to the home page. Doug’s Blog has been added to the CC Blogs Community, and I’m proud to be listed. Several friends are already there. Click on the icon and take a look. And then there’s the revamped Doug’s Books page. I didn’t expect to sell a lot of my books through the blog, but I did expect to let people know what I’ve written. The re-design helps. Thanks to Chris at the Blog Designers!)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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