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Finding Your Way

August 15, 2005


So I had promised to do some blogging about Pagitt’s new preaching book, which I got in the mail last week. But I haven’t been able to finish it yet, because I’ve been thinking about preaching so much.

On most Saturday mornings for the past four or five years, I’ve been going for runs with my club. We get together at the same place just across the river from DC, and do a variety of runs for a variety of distances. Since I’ve started attending, we’ve had at least three official leaders, plus substitutes, and each leader handles the preliminaries differently. Everyone makes an announcement or two, and welcomes any new people, and reminds everyone that they are welcome to come to breakfast afterward. The major variable is the description of the route. We use a repotoire of about thirty routes, adding a new one every once in a while, or perhaps doing some variation or combination. Some follow trails, others go through the city, and quite a few are a very involved combination of both. In almost every case, the routes are announced and described on the website well beforehand, and printed cue sheets are available on Saturday morning. But the cue sheets kind of dematerialize when subjected to heavy rain or substantial sweat, and so there is usually some concern about making sure that folks understand the route.

Here’s where things vary quite a bit. Some leaders will say, “take one of those sheets,” and they describe the bare outline of the route. Other leaders will talk folks through the sheets, giving very detailed directions for five or ten minutes. And still others will land somewhere in between.

Now, I don’t want to minimize the fear that comes with not knowing the route. When one is getting started with these runs, it is no small concern. Indeed, when the weather is very hot or very cold, getting turned around can be a dangerous thing. Even so, getting lost is a kind of rite of passage for every regular attender. You hate it when it happens, but you laugh about it later (hopefully not in front of a person who happened to get lost that day).

What I’ve noticed is this: no matter how detailed the description of the route, a person unfamiliar with the route invariably follows the group at the start, sorting themself according to speed/pace, and starts querying those around them about their familiarity with the route. If they can’t find someone who is willing/able to show them the route, they will either run ahead or slow down and find someone who can. Because trying to describe (much less memorize!) an intricate route with its dozen or so cues in the abstract is almost impossible. It is much better to find someone who will make the journey with you. Even better than that is to find a group of people who can guide you through the territory, making any necessary adjustments along the way (due to impassible trails, or traffic, or dehydration, or injury, or whatever comes up).

A lot of preachers get up in front of their congregations each week and try to do the huculean work of laying out the path for each person in their congregation. Because the communication is one-way and exhuastive, it is frequently overwhelming and exhausting for everyone concerned. What works better is for folks to find a friend who has travelled the path before, and can help them. Or– even better– to put a few people together, each of whom know parts of the route, and who can contribute toward the successful journey.

Does that mean that the leader is going to have to give up their seat of authority, and pulpit of power? Yup. Will some people squawk about the absense of “clear teaching”? You bet. Will individuals will get lost every once in a while? Absolutely. Or will whole groups of people will get turned around for a time? Definitely.

But I wonder if the exhaustive speech ever changed anyone, anyway.

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5 Responses to “Finding Your Way”

  1. kate says:

    Nice metaphor!!
    I must, however, speak in defense of the preacher. I’ve had jobs, the schedules of which — notably the one in Seattle — which left me very little option for attending small groups, etc., in the church. I really didn’t get to know anyone. But I drank really thirstily at the well every Sunday morning (on little sleep), and, yeah, it wasn’t enough, but there’s a LOT to be gained by listening to the wise words of a humble, learned man or woman of God. Even if I rarely or never interacted with the person. Kind of like Paul’s letters, perhaps. We sure have never met him, but just reading his (God’s, obviously) messages, thousands of years later, is tremendously helpful.
    But you’re dead right, of course, about community. It takes a lot of a lot of things.

  2. Ross says:

    I agree Kate.. when I was younger :) I really needed to hear regular “preaching”. Mostly to learn the ropes, to build a foundation, and to learn the language of faith. However, I have come to think of preaching as a substitite. Kind of like hearing about Jesus vs walking with him. Both are good, but one is clearly superior. Mike really did a great job building this metaphor.. great stuff.

  3. sonja says:

    Well … I’m a both/and kind of gal … I think it might take both. I think there might need to be a group of leaders who point the way. Who say, “Hey, there is a trail. But it will be really helpful for you to find some people to run with.” AND I think it takes having a group to struggle along with. But I agree with kate and ross … this is a powerful metaphor, Mike … when does YOUR book come out, cause I want a signed copy!!;-)

  4. ArborSam says:

    I have a love hate relationship with the Sunday morning preacher. I love this post because it reminds me of the part that I enjoy. Good metaphor or artful illustration in the hands of a gifted artist is something that I savor. The memorable stories told by authors, poets, preachers, coaches, and statesmen inspire me and more importantly stick with me. I agree with Kate that our journey should be multifaceted…I would dearly miss good preaching just as I would miss trekking with companions.

  5. ArborSam says:

    I have a love hate relationship with the Sunday morning preacher. I love this post because it reminds me of the part that I enjoy. Good metaphor or artful illustration in the hands of a gifted artist is something that I savor. The memorable stories told by authors, poets, preachers, coaches, and statesmen inspire me and more importantly stick with me. I agree with Kate that our journey should be multifaceted…I would dearly miss good preaching just as I would miss trekking with companions.

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