“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”
I’ve discovered a curious thing: one of the most comforting things we can share with people is not that we have the answers, but that we are right there in the doubts and questions. At the same time, as a preacher, one of the hardest things to figure out is how much to share. I am well aware that I am always preaching from where I am right now, but at the same time it’s not about me. How to stay human in the pulpit without using the pulpit to work out my issues is a constant struggle.
I visit a lot of churches and hear a lot of sermons. Overall, I haven’t heard many preachers who get up and overshare. In fact, I can’t think of the last time that happened. Far too often, though, I hear sermons that I think go the other way, where the preacher has not revealed enough of her humanity for me to find a connection.
I wonder – I just wonder, mind – how many of us censor ourselves before we even start on the sermon. I wonder how many of us have a thought cross our mind to which we say, “No, I can’t possibly say that,” before we’re even able to look at it closely. I wonder how often we force ourselves away from the questions we have in order to prepare the answers we think we ought to have. I wonder if, in our eagerness to talk about God to people we care for, we sometimes avoid talking to God about the things that concern us.
I'm not saying that we should stand up and preach the raw questions, but I get the feeling that sometimes we as clergy worry what will happen if we approach the questions at all. I believe it’s deeply important for us as clergy to allow ourselves to explore our doubts and our questions in order to be healthy and human role models of faith. As Frederich Buechner wrote, "If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me." Have we as clergy, in our eagerness to preach the faith, allowed room for ourselves? Or have we kept ourselves stuck in the pulpit even in our most private moments?
What would happen if we went there? What would happen if we looked at the texts we were preparing and jotted down everything that came to mind – the good, the bad, and the ugly? What if we allowed ourselves to rejoice in our doubts, our questions, our laments? What if we asked God to join us as we let the very things that scare us lead us to the next thing we might find? What if we weren’t scared of them?
Here at Confirm not Conform, we preach that doubts and questions are good, that they are signs of an active, seeking faith that allows God to be larger than our current understanding and allows us to be truly human with one another. That’s as true for us as clergy, preachers, and youth ministers as it is for anyone else. If we do the work, I am convinced this will shine through in our preaching without crossing the line into oversharing. And in so doing, we will be offering the comfort of a true and lively faith -- our own.