Being Famous Enough

May 24th, 2011

Not long ago one of my colleagues telephoned with a question. She called because she knows that I know more preachers than most people (Do "not pick out the good from the bad" Leviticus 27:33). She wanted to know a preacher who could preach a first-rate set of sermons for a clergy gathering. After tossing out six or seven names of those whom I considered to be top-quality and faithful preachers, both men and women, she dismissed each one in rapid sequence. I began to get annoyed and thought of Jesse, for whom each son was paraded in succession by Samuel, unworthy to be Israel's next king (see 1 Samuel l6:1-13 ). Finally, out of annoyance I simply asked her, "What is wrong with these names?"

Then the caller came clean. "I'm sorry," she said, "none of your names is famous enough." It struck me as an odd thing. Can you imagine that Paul or John Chrysostom or Peter Cartwright or Charles Haddon Spurgeon or Martin Niemöller would have not had enough of a reputa­tion in some quarters to elicit an invitation to preach the gospel? In our twenty-first century sometimes what is most essential is the status of the presenter rather than the person's competency or that the person is a faithful gospel witness. At times it seems like it is all about celebrity.

For this reason, I offer a word of appreciation to the scores of preach­ers who labor under relative anonymity and produce faithful sermons to feed their congregations each week. To them I say a grateful word of thanks. I find it a comfort as "a quintessential non-famous person" to know that some of the best preachers in our country today are people whom we have never heard of—and likely never will. Yet the preaching task remains central regardless of notoriety or its absence...We all need to be in conversation with a lot of truly good preach­ers whom no one has ever heard.

Perhaps you are like many preachers. As we preach week in and week out, we are aware that the work sometimes places us on a lonely path. To repair this homiletical isolation, many of us preaching pastors assemble with colleagues who share our preaching journey. Sometimes preachers gather weekly or monthly in "study clusters" or "lectionary groups." Yet for many rural preachers, maybe even urban preachers too, assembling regularly with others in this fashion is neither convenient nor feasible. Happily, with the Internet we can hear other preachers practice the art of homiletics. Yet listening to many sermons tends to be time consum­ing—a luxury that few of us have.

Each pastor and congregation has an exacting and sacred association that no other person can imitate. In fact, l know many pastors who do everything else that they do (administration, pastoral care, fund raising, and so on) in order to preach God's word.

Consequently, we trust that no authentic preacher will be so lifeless or lacking in zest as to let enticement for shortcuts weaken preaching's effectiveness. At the same time, the preaching task is so difficult we can never do it by ourselves.

In an earlier era, preachers steadfastly read what other preachers might write in newspapers, books, and periodicals. Today, many shun the read­ing of sermons. We don't have the time to read, it seems. Yet to walk through a text and experience it with a sister or brother in the ministry is often a helpful way to learn as we go. No preacher is ever a finished prod­uct. We all continually learn from others and from our own small victo­ries as well as our large mistakes. In these kinds of conversation, both we and the church are blessed. "You too heard the word of truth in Christ, which is the good news your salvation. You were sealed with the prom­ised Holy Spirit because you believed in Christ" (Ephesians 1:13)!

excerpted from: The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2013 edited by David N. Mosser ©2012 Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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