Quite reasonably congregations want we preachers to say something worth listening to! And of course, they want some kind of encouragement in their Christian discipleship.
This is always a challenge. For in my congregations there has usually been a mix of opinion and experience. There have been those who implicitly and naively think history was as Genesis is written. There have also always been thoroughly modern people to whom that view is beyond understanding. Some are fervent and pious. Others seem to lack any imagination. Others again seem so eclectic I've wondered where the christian connection was! Most of us are strange mixtures of these. There was one man of such hard-line conservative Presbyterian stock it seemed he would find a plain brick, non singing ferociously Calvinistic chapel undisciplined. He baptised his children at home in the bath. And he joined the Uniting Church because he read Jack Spong and found truth there. I'm not much less of a bunch of contradictions myself.
So how do we preach to our self, and to this glorious, inspiring, small minded, courageous, lateral thinking, generous, and fearful bunch of people?
I think we preachers often err on the side of the conservatism and safety. Not many of us get complaints to Presbytery for being too theologically safe in our preaching! But it's not really the conservative congregants we give into. And it's not really upsetting those of fragile faith we are concerned about. We give into ourselves... and our own faith's fears. If we were unafraid of what might happen to God when we question a tradition, we would not be so worried. The congregation is rarely the problem, hard as they may make me work. I am the problem.
Rev Andrew Prior, currently Minister in Placement at Greenacres, S.A.
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