A Reminder of Why

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It’s a beautiful thing to be reminded of why we do what we do and why we love what we love. I recently spent the weekend in Spokane, Washington (a lovely part of the country) speaking to some high school students and young adults. The subject of the four talks I gave from Friday through Sunday was the concept of Shalom and the greater mission of God. And my time there was as fulfilling for me as it was for anyone else there.

I speak at my own church – The Mercy House – each and every week, for the most part. I’ve been doing it for over four years and we’ve built a community that I love to be a part of. It’s a creative, young, missional community and I feel lucky to lead such an amazing group of people. But it’s also true that what I have to say and how I say it is rather old hat. “Yes, Matt, we’ve heard that story before,” or “Yes, Matt, that analogy was a fine one to make the first three times we heard it.”

The particular lens and life experiences God has given me to speak truth through are what make me so it’s hard to be anything else. Of course, the Spirit brings something fresh each week–I hope!–and yet there’s always going to be some sense of familiarity to it. I guess I picture Bruce Springsteen’s wife going, “Yeah, yeah, I know all those songs. They were good the first 2,000 times I heard them.” Okay, so I’m not Springsteen…

But this weekend, the crowd was brand new. The scenario was a blank slate. And the response was fantastic. The comments and feedback I would receive sounded strangely familiar – like the ones that were made when we first planted our church north of Indianapolis and people began to hear a message in a way that was refreshing and timely for them. And it felt refreshing all over again.

There’s something about being able to step outside your typical situation or job and find a fresh audience with which to share it with that inspires you of what you are doing in the first place. I find myself hitting my head against the wall after particular Sundays in which maybe it wasn’t as sharp or inspirational or moving or convicting as others. It’s frustrating to feel like you’re just spinning your wheels in front of the same crowd, wondering if you’re getting through or if you’re wasting your efforts.

To be honest, maybe I’m not even sure what to take from this. I returned back to my home context this morning and it felt like the same old stuff. Maybe I need to quit and become an circuit rider – some preacher on his horse who goes from town to town (which in my case is an old Corolla). Maybe it’s a good thing to remember the original feeling. Then again, maybe it’s revealing a need to please an audience and feel appreciated. It’s probably all three, which only reveals I haven’t the slightest idea what to ultimately take from the experience.

Matt Conner is the teaching pastor at Trinity Church in the heart of Indianapolis and the founder of Analogue Media.


7 Comments

  1. Stacy Grubb

    Matt,

    I think it’s easy to get caught up in chasing after a feeling. I’ve got a lot of family members who are drawn to the more flamboyant, emotional preaching styles that they can see on TV and, unless they’re emotionally moved, they don’t think they’re partaking in a good sermon. Feelings are good. Maybe they’re the best ever. But often times they’re just the fluff that holds people from sinking into the real meat that will actually sustain a body. We all want to feel good, but emotions can be so misleading and even eclipse the bigger picture when we’re busy pumping our fists, Amen-ing, and doing the Running Man for the Lord. I love those moments, too. Don’t get me wrong. But they don’t provide much of an atmosphere for quiet reflection and letting the many facets of a Truth absorb into your understading.

    I’ve often felt like I’m spinning my wheels when trying to teach my son values, etiquette, manners, his alphabet, how to count, etc. In fact, I’d say I may as well have been talking to a brick wall. Yet, here he is at four and he’s counting, singing his ABC’s, says please and thank you, blesses people when they sneeze. Now, he’s not nearly as well-behaved as all that sounds, but it is proof that, somewhere along the lines, all my wheel spinning has indeed made a difference. People at any age, whether they fully realize it or not, really do crave familiarity. New and Exciting is great in spurts, but it’s not really what anyone would be able to handle on a regular basis. Afterall, then it just turns into “New and Exciting” being the “familiar,” so then it’s a quest of how to take it to the next level to achieve the same high.

    I had an anatomy teacher in high school and nearly every day for the entire year, he repeated this same phrase: “Repetition is the mother of memory.” Effective wheel-spinning really drives the point home over and over and over again. And one day, maybe one of your group members will be in a situation where some of your old and familiar phrases will apply and immediately the light bulb will go off and they’ll remember what you’ve been saying all this time and it’ll suddenly make practical sense.

    Stacy

  2. Nathan Bubna

    There are many things always worth saying and always worth hearing, so long as they are meant when said, and regardless of how they are received. When you find those things, repeat them often and patiently. Never mind complaints, gratitude is not the important thing.

  3. William Marshall

    Matt,

    I know that feeling so well. At times it seems that I am just not geared for taking the long-haul approach. I want new and fresh and immediate and visible results. I was encouraged at a recent conference when an experienced pastor said that preaching/teaching is not like mowing the grass. You know, you start and the grass is tall and when you finish (a few hours later) it looks good (or at least better). That thought encouraged me to stop looking for the ‘finished product’ every Sunday morning. Rather, teaching is maybe more like my experience with planting grass. Last fall, I plowed up my front yard and planted new grass. I put down fertilizer and watered it like crazy for a few weeks and eventually it began to grow, slowly but surely. Throughout winter I was pretty proud of my new grass. Then spring came and weeds began to sprout (this is sounding more and more like a parable I’ve heard). Before I knew it, the weeds killed off a good portion of my new grass and I was frustrated. Yet, I’ll keep working with it. Plant some more grass next spring, try to figure out how to kill the weeds, and see what happens. All that to say, faithfulness over the long-haul is the key. We keep teaching, we keep encouraging, we keep praying, we keep learning. And we put our hope in the One who causes growth, even if it is not always as quick or as visible as we would like.

    Anyway, thanks for your honesty. Sorry if I sounded preachy. I really only wanted to share the comment from the conference (so you can ignore my contribution to the analogy).

    wm

  4. Tony Heringer

    Johnny,

    I don’t think this feeling changes if your plans are to pastor a local church. My pastor is 30+ years into it and there are stories, analogies and phrases I’ve heard more than Springsteen songs over the 10+ years I’ve known him. At times, like Nathan notes above, it sounds trite or overused and other times it sounds familiar and real. Either case the issue lies with our hearts.
    Either in how I’m recieving it or how he delivers it or a combination of both.

    That is the lovely mess the visible church is because its full of sinners – some redeemed and some not. The reason we return is because we need each other to hear that old, old story. Rich Mullins wrote a song that I think address this topic well, I’ll close with that:

    “Hello old friends
    I’ve really nothing new to say
    The old, old story bears repeating
    And the plain, old truth grows dearer every day
    When you find something worth believing
    That’s a joy that nothin’ could take away

    And so we meet again
    After all these years
    Did we sow the things we’re reaping
    Now that the harvest calls us here
    It seems that love blooms out of season
    And much joy can blossom from many tears

    So old friends, you must forget what you had to forgive
    And let love be stronger than the feelings
    That rage and run beneath the bridge
    Knowin’ morning follows evening
    Makes each new day come as a gift”

  5. Taylor Sandlin

    Tony – great Rich Mullins reference. I have to think the pastorate is somewhat like a marriage (certainly not in all ways) or any other long term relationship. There will be different seasons but that need not mean any less love or commitment to the mission God has given us. Seasons of routine can feel like a rut or can provide great comfort. They can also push both pastor and people into new, deeper levels of creativity. Always enjoy the honesty, Matt.

  6. Peter B

    I wonder if John’s church-plant congregations ever got tired of hearing him tell them to love one another. I mean, do we really need to hear that again?

  7. Mark L.

    Hmm…. very interesting. If you felt re-invigorated, maybe it wasn’t so bad that you were able to preach to a different crowd for a chance.

    Some quotes that may or may not apply:

    “Everybody needs a little time away,” I heard you say, “from each other.”
    “Even lovers need a holiday far away from each other.” – Chicago

    The applause of a single human being is of great consequence. – Samuel Johnson

    Absense makes the heart grow fonder. (Or is it, out of sight, out of mind? Maybe it is out of sight out of mind until back in sight when glowing heart realizes what it missed)

    Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

    Well done, my good and faithful servant. (The applause of a man-God is pretty significant as well.)

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