I offer this piece with a disclaimer: I don't think everything I wrote is entirely true.
Well at least, the part where I say I know no identity but that of a preacher. I am first and foremost God's beloved son, and that identity is infinitely deeper than anything related to my calling. But that is not always what I feel.
I offer this in tribute to all the brave men and women of God who bear up under the weight of our call. I hope it articulates some of the ambiguity, beauty and tension wrapped up in saying "yes" when God summons you to the pulpit.
Through the foolishness of preaching, God has chosen to demonstrate the power of the gospel. From Peter on the day of Pentecost to Martin Luther King preaching in Memphis, TN preaching is still changing the world. Never forget that, and by all means-keep preaching. Preach with boldness, preach with vulnerability. Preach high risk, bloody messages; preach because it matters.
I am a preacher.
I say this as a confession, hoping that you will offer me the sacrament of reconciliation. For I might pretend to be many other things, but honesty demands that I come clean on this if we are going to be friends. And besides, the only person you should be more suspicious of than a preacher is a preacher who pretends to be something other than a preacher.
As preachers we put on different roles and "make believe." We dream. This comes off not with the whimsy of a child's imagination but the peculiar madness of grown men and women playing with paper dolls. We play at being CEO's or rock stars or life coaches or intellectuals or civic leaders or politicians. Preachers in drag, preachers at a freak show, step right up and see the bearded lady. It might be funny at first, like cards or gift calendars where animals are dressed up like people. Except you stare long enough until you wonder … do they really dress up their dog like a professor every day for real? We pretend sometimes, eager to be seen as something other than a preacher.
It's understandable why we would pretend to be something different than what we are, because (to put it mildly), preachers have limitations. We are compared to poets, but we generally lack their precision with language, using words with clumsy brute force as often as not. We are sometimes called prophets, but we are not generally so courageous, especially since our livelihood usually depends on the people we prophesy to. We are not precisely artists, since we lack the artist's originality. The preacher's job is not to paint new things but to repeat old things. If we were artists none of us would be Rembrandt; we'd be drawing caricatures in a booth at a mall for $10 a picture.
We re-shuffle a deck of words already given to us, only hoping to play the right card at the right time. We are of no real use to society, certainly not in the ways that engineers and doctors and teachers are useful to society.
I am a preacher. That means I didn't decide to do what I'm doing. I love God, and can say that without hesitation these days, but I don't preach because I love God more than anyone else. Certainly not because I can claim any extraordinary holiness. Preachers are people who have had holiness lay a claim on them, branded with iron. People talk about a calling, an inner voice, a quiet whisper, a special peace—"calling" that settles on you like morning dew. What gets left out most of the time is that calling seizes you like an octopus—you are Captain Nemo in the grip of a sea creature 20,000 leagues below. (Not all preachers experience calling in this way, mind you, where you are as much manacled by something as you are liberated by something. Only the interesting ones.)