Heuristic Pastoring

A sermon has never been a thing I could write, the one exception for my attempting it being a course assignment, the time the professor called me in his office to tell me that what I had written wasn’t really a sermon, at least not one he imagined someone would preach. I gently told him that I do not write sermons. “But I assumed you wanted to preach,” he said, “not to mention, you’re a good writer.” “I do want to preach,” I said, “and thank you. I write, but I don’t write sermons and probably never will. Sermons to me are preached, and writing is best when it’s not preachy.” A week after my release from that office, the essay got returned to me with an A+ and red ink: “Good sermon, Joseph!!!” Oy. I defaced the whole thing with a frowny face.

Had he insisted I redo the assignment, I might have managed to type one of my sermons, but not write one.

These posts I’m writing for the Sunday bulletins and Web site are a way for you to probe a pastor’s mind and find out the guts of who I am, a way of conversation about the living which we are all doing. One pastor who conversed this heuristic way for his congregation is Eugene Peterson, and I won’t describe it better than he:

I began to sense that my writing was at some deeper level a conversation with scripture. At the same time a conversation with my congregation. But conversation, not explaining, not directing. I was exploring the country, this land of the living. And I was taking my time. I hadn’t set out to do this. I had neither model nor goal—at least I didn’t think I did. It was a way of writing that involved a good deal of listening, looking around, getting acquainted with the neighborhood. Not writing what I knew but writing into what I didn’t know, edging into a mystery. This, I was learning, was what real writers did. . . .
Writing as a way of paying attention. Writing as an act of prayer, . . . revealing relationships, drawing me into mysteries, training me imaginatively to enter the language world of scripture in which God “spoke and it came to be,” in which “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” And it became a way of writing in which I was entering into the language world of my congregation, their crises and small talk, their questions and doubts, listening for and discerning the lived quality of the gospel in their lives. Not just saying things. Not just writing words. [emphasis added] (The Pastor: A Memoir 238-39)

You’re finding this out now lest you impugn these newsletters, demanding the answers, the solutions, one more bite-sized fix. I promise when preaching the Scriptures to give you the point of the text, but when writing this page I’ll give you an edging into the mystery.

— Joseph