Self Revelation and Ministry
July 29, 2010
In Fred Buechner's third volume of autobiography, Telling Secrets (1991), in a poignant and moving conclusion to his first chapter, he admonishes ministers to allow the love of God extended to them personally to penetrate into their messages and ministries more than they do. He notes that the very people who ask their congregations to listen to God speaking from the scriptures, who exhort them to speak intimately and personally with him through prayer, who teach congregants to share the profound difference it makes having a relationship with this God with those who do not know, and yet these same ministers allow so little of that intimacy to permeate their preaching. And, in fact, maybe they have not permitted this God to actually touch their deepest places and thus cannot share the intimacy they ask others to seek and find.
Guilty, I confess. Especially looking back at some of my early days as a church planter in a small congregation in Colorado, I think now how I understood at an intellectual level and expounded at an intellectual level, but still safeguarded "me." Yes, I cried at times (and that is me), but I did not or could not at that time open up the drapes to the window to my intimate places even though the crying suggested there was a window there.
The other day a co-worker shared with me a conversation he had with a person about me and how hard the last nine months had been on me, how I had suffered for those who we laid off due to economic hardships. Was it that apparent to him how I felt inside, I wondered? I am reading Buechner's autobiographies again this summer and, of course, the next day I ran across this passage I mentioned above. As I reflect on its message now, I find myself still guilty.
I believe I have made large strides forward. But I do not think others really see into the inward areas with clarity. Maybe the drapes are still mostly pulled tight or slightly parted or they have parted but I have tinted the windows, becoming craftier in my veiling approaches.
I do say more often something about the grace of God in my life. God's grace always surprises me when I know good-and-well how much of a skunk I can be or how nasty my thoughts or twisted my motives. Intellectually I know it is who God is. But it often surprises me, like a toddler who time after time jumps when dad plays peek-a-boo with her.
I like to characterize myself as straightforward, honest, and yet gracious person, and in actuality I sometimes am. But I still have very few people with whom I share my intimates. I know I could do better with leaking more into conversations, classes, and even preaching messages. Then perhaps our students would learn a little better how to open up to share their journey with its joys, sorrows, struggles, and intimacies in their ministries.
Maybe we all could.