Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
You can follow Chip on twitter (@chiphardwick) or find him on Facebook (Chip Hardwick).
After a four-flight, 26 hour, 14-time-zone-crossing journey from Busan, Korea, to Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina last week, I spent 48 hours last week working as part of the leadership team for next summer’s Montreat Youth Conferences. I am so excited to be preaching there for the first week next summer, and the purpose of this gathering was to build community and to plan for what is to come. The “Montreat Machine” has been doing these things very effectively for a long time, so I was the beneficiary of a lot of amazing collective wisdom.
One of their decisions which most benefited me was the inclusion of current high school students on the planning team. Of the sixteen of us who are working on the first two weeks of camp, four of them are students. They were wise and inspiring and faithful and fun, not to mention a lot better at the get-to-know-you games we played during our time together. (How did they guess so quickly that my pet peeve was unanswered texts and calls?)
One conversation with the students, more than any other, has kept rolling around in my mind. Earlier in the evening we had been talking about life as a middle and high school student, and it was clear that they face very different pressures from the ones that we adults do. However, they still experience all of the same awkwardness and loneliness and longing for connection that most everyone feels when we are teenagers. You combine that, and it became particularly clear to me how challenging it is for most of the people to whom I will be preaching.
The pivotal conversation came when I asked the students what advice they had for me as a preacher, and they encouraged me to talk about the stress, talk about the challenge, talk about the difficulties head on. They didn’t want anything sugar-coated; they wanted the harsh realities of their lives to be recognized. In short, they wanted me to “keep it real.” I am looking forward to preaching this way when I am there—I think their encouragement will make my sermons much more engaging and challenging than they might have been otherwise.
The more I think about their advice, however, the more convicted I am that I need to keep all my sermons real. I think I tend to imply the difficulties of life, rather than diving deeply into them and discussing them. I might make a passing reference to an unreconciled relationship, or household debt, or debilitating illness, or addictions, but I rarely explore them more fully, enough that my listeners know that I understand what they are going through—and, even more importantly, that God understands what they are going through, and that the Gospel of Christ wants to engage every aspect of their life. A quick thumb through the pages of the scriptures shows us that God encourages us to keep it real, and that many of the characters of the Bible do just that. I’m going to look for more ways to do just that in the future, and I’m grateful for the students’ wisdom to encourage me to do so.
If you’re a preacher, how might you follow the students’ advice and keep it real in your sermons?
If you’re a listener, how might you encourage your preacher to keep it real? (Remember it is best when conversations like this are filled with love as well as challenge…many of us preachers are more fragile than you think.)