He is extraordinary, we are not. It’s good to work to do what we do for God—in every arena of life—better than we have done it previously. The true moments where the veil is lifted and we see reality, where we meet with God in his heavenly temple, where we enjoy sacrament are gifted by the grace of God. We cannot create them, but he won’t meet us if we do not engage in the ordinary first.
I wrote a few months back about our preoccupation with the need to be extraordinary. It’s, particularly for my generation, a problem in ministry. It can play havoc with leadership, undermine the ordinary means of grace, and mean that we miss what we’re aiming for.
To take preaching as an example, I am convinced that I haven’t ever preached an ‘excellent’ sermon, if there is such a thing. I’ve preached a few good ones and a bunch of average ones—I preach about once a month these days and have been preaching for fifteen years though not at that frequency the whole time. I know what I’m good at and have a good sense of some of what I’d like to improve on. I haven’t hit ‘excellence.’ Which, since we’re not going to be extraordinary, is just fine.
Except, I think it’s worth aiming for. I reckon most preachers manage a message that’s truly great once or twice in their lives. I’m not talking about the sort of preaching that goes viral, though that does occasionally happen and isn’t a bad thing if it’s happened for the right reasons; rather, I mean the sermon where the preacher knows that they are speaking words as if from God, and doing it well instead of ham-fistedly like normal. The kind of sermon where the congregation knows it too, and their lives are impacted even if they don’t remember a word of it afterwards.
We manage that for one person in the congregation more often than you would think, in the kindness of God’s economy. But I strive for that day where everyone is aware of it. I think that’s important because I know I do not do well at speaking God’s words after himself, which is the core of preaching. I aspire to doing it once or maybe twice in my life.
I think that’s a worthy goal. Of course, that means most times I preach it will be fairly ordinary. Which I’m quite happy with. Or, learning to be at least. The difference between the two is partly my effort—if I put no work in then the elevated preaching won’t ever happen—but it’s primarily God’s gift.