When vulnerable is valuable

You’ve all heard the tale, I’m sure, of those who ‘have the preacher for Sunday lunch’ – picking over the bones of the sermon and spitting out the bits they didn’t like! Given how uncomfortable that experience can be, even from a distance, you might be surprised to learn how I spent my Saturday morning this week. I spent the time, along with a colleague from the College of Preachers, conducting a preaching workshop. There were twenty-five or so there, including some experienced preachers and some teenagers keen to try it out. The opening act of worship included a sermon preached by me on Luke 2 v. 35-45, followed by a communal critique of the preaching.

You might well recoil from the very idea, and even more so if I tell you that the opening response to the question “what did you hear in the sermon?” was “nothing”! However, that honest response opened the floodgates for everyone to chip in, with everything from insights on the value of storytelling to testimonies of how the sermon had moved them. There are two lessons in this, I believe. The first is that we cannot learn unless the teacher is vulnerable. To open your own work up to criticism gives others permission to critique their own work.  The second thing is that you cannot invite criticism if you are not prepared for some of it to be negative! In fact the negative comment made people realise that it was ok to be honest, and thereby helped everybody. Negativity did not have the upper hand, but learning surely did.

In a discussion towards the end of medialt11, I pointed out the obvious fact that the word disciple could not be spelt without the use of the letter ‘L’. This is especially appropriate, since the Greek word means ‘learner’ anyway. The kingdom relies upon our willingness to learn together through both our best efforts and our most disappointing mistakes. My journey into preaching began when adults in the church allowed an angry young man to try his hand at preaching, and encouraged me by their serious attention, concerted prayer and gentle correction as I did so.

As yesterday morning’s session drew to a close we had a time of open prayer which brought together ordained clergy, lay preachers of fifty years’ or more experience, and teenagers yet to take their first steps into preaching.  This proved to be a unique and wonderful Kingdom moment, and one which I shall savour for some time to come. You can’t spell disciple without using the letter ‘L’, but then again you can’t spell love without it either.