Notes from the Field of Youth Ministry

What is The Church Anyway?

Posted By Milly Morrow on June 20, 2013

The week before we celebrated the festival of Pentecost I was delighted to spend five days at what I lovingly referred to as “The Festival of Nerds 2013” but what the organizers of the Nerd Fest called “The Festival of Homiletics.” (I prefer my title but nobody asked me.)

At this festival, many renowned and charismatic preachers came from around the country to speak to a crowd of over a thousand from around the world for five days about why preaching matters. Among these highly honored and valued preachers were Walter Brueggemann, Phyllis Tickle, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Bishop Michael Curry and Otis Moss III, just to name a few. And if you don’t recognize any of those names, you now understand why we have to gather together at the Festival of Nerds… because being a Nerd is lonely otherwise.

The time together in Nashville, where the streets increasingly smell of cheap beer and the tourism shops seem to be generating themselves, was oddly the perfect place to ask the question of why preaching matters. I took some time, of course, to walk those beer-filled streets and what I saw and heard and felt was the discomfort of being in a group of people looking for a place where we belonged, looking perhaps for the right gift for someone we love, or at least want to make happy, and maybe looking for something that in turn would make us happy too. But what was being offered on Broadway Street in Nashville instead were blaring voices inviting us “inside,” loud competing music, and lousy trinkets of guitars on key chains and shot glasses with Elvis or Johnny Cash pictured smiling on the outside.

None of that did it for me… and so I made my way back to the Festival of Nerds. What I was offered there over and over again was a new imagination of what The Church could be and what The Church really has to offer. What I heard over and over again from these scholarly and generous people who have dedicated their lives to being leaders in our communities was this: Preaching matters because the world around us is really LOUD and really wants us to feel empty and needy so we will search smelly streets for what will fill us. Preaching matters because the voices that invite us in to those bars and stores from those smelly streets are sometimes rather convincing; sometimes those voices have arms and just seem to yank us right in.

Preaching matters, because the Church has something else to offer us; the Church wants us to know – to know we are already full, we are already gifted, we are already known, to God and to each other through Christ and in Christ. The Church wants to offer us a new reality, to help us imagine another way and another world, where swords are beat into tools to make food enough for all, another world where the lion lies down with the lamb and where we will be granted peace “like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; where we will be nursed and will be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees”(Isaiah 66:12). If we know that world is possible, if we are reminded that this other world really is possible through good preaching and pastoral care, then we know our only option is to forgo the shiny trinkets for the glow of the candle. If we really listen, we know the only option is to do our part in it, to follow our examples and to work for that Kingdom… We know it; we hear it; we are The Church. Happy Pentecost. Bless and be Blessed.

– Milly