sabbatical thoughts (part one) July 7, 2009Posted by peterong in Reflections.
As I return to filling various pulpits in the new york metro area since taking a one year sabbatical from preaching, I have gained a greater appreciation to my role in ministry and the heart that I have to this privilege of preaching.
As I have looked at this gift that I have been given to speak, it has always been an ambivalent relationship. one one hand, it is beautiful in going deep in the exegesis of the text and being able to share it with your church family but on the other hand, I think the celebrity that accompanies it is deceptive and sinfully alluring. for many preachers their sense of success comes from the quality of the reception of the sermon. in my case, i often felt that people equated my character with preaching and those are not necessarily the same. i confess that i often overshoot when i preach. i yearn for the gospel but not necessarily want to make the necessary sacrifices to follow the applications that I set out for others. so, i find myself at wits end because the culture of the church requires ministers to entertain, and be as provocative as their reality tv shows. so they want a good anecdote, a good message that is well organized, a message that is unique and witty. but if it were just that easy.
the words that are being formed around the preaching of the word are sometimes muted by the desires of the congregations and I am so afraid that i am falling into this trap. this trap of wanting so much for people to like me. to be a christian celebrity. but i am learning to speak harder with a prophetic imagination and especially with youth, i want them to go beyond “jesus loves you…” but rather “jesus is love…” and that truth should move us to a profound call to follow and to love with extravagance.
in the year, I have experienced some of the best and the worst of this profound office of preaching. As I think about the state of the pulpit i wonder if we can reform the culture of the congregation to delve to the power of the gospel to reach into the darkest depths of our shallowed faith. to show more than just the comfort of the gospel of grace but also the power of it to redeem the most uttermost hopeless situation in our lives and communities. i am praying for confidence as a relatively young preacher. searching for something more.
as i return, i have found that people (through twitters, facebook, and conversations) that they are more apt to speak about their jobs, their food preferences, their encounters with celebrities, awkward moments on their commute to work than about their daily encounter with God. to be honest, this just a source of such discouragement and cynicism for me.
i say this not out of righteousness but a yearning for community. for a desire to come along a community that their lives are shaped by the gospel call to bring redemption to all parts of the world. to have conversations about God that inspires me to holy and sacrificial. so much of my leading is compromised by following the church and its pursuit of the “dream.”
so i press forth, preach about our call as church and our role to express the hope we have and the generosity that comes from it… I need to remember and to remind others of the power of God’s saving work through Christ and how He gave the church to pronounce that to the world. as i think about this past sunday, michael oh’s sermon challenged us to think about what we have as a church and what could be possible for us as a church if we understood Christ’s sufferings.
I want to suffer for your gospel Lord. to stand before the world as a testimony that there is nothing more than i desire.
news: just returned from doing a youth workshop and moderated a panel about the Asian American Church at the New York Summer Conference where Ken Fong (evergreen baptist church) and Joseph Tsang (vision church) preached in the college & career track while Hoon Kim spoke in the youth track. As I spoke to the 100+ youth at my workshop (tsk tsk tsk for all you sneaking in), I heard their stories of burdens of religion and legality and yet also want so much more than bowling nights at church youth group but a call to a deeper discipleship.
I am also still reflecting on the wonderful experience that may God will work through my talks at Teen Eastern Chinese Bible Conference (this is my 9th year serving with this ministry) and how much I love young people and their hope in the gospel. I pray for a church that will mentor them and love them to be who they are created to be in Christ. i pray that God will give them a heart to be mentored and to give them a stretching vision of radical discipleship that gives them a picture of Christ.