I believe we've made the right choice in hiring the new preacher whom we did.
In yesterday's sermon, he had turned to a passage, and just when we thought he was going to read it, he stopped and said that he didn't want to disturb anyone, but that he liked to hear the Word read out loud, and would be calling on us members to do some reading. He then said, "What does the text say?"
I was just about to decide to read the text, when his son piped up and read the passage. It was sort of an antiphonal reading, with the son reading a phrase, and his father repeating it with some sort of emphasis, followed by the son reading a phrase, followed by the repeat.
This happened four or six times throughout the sermon. The son always was first to bat. (I suppose he was culturally acclimated to this sort of reading, whereas the rest of us were not, and therefore weren't quite prepared.)
I like this method. It involves the listeners rather than simply leaving them sitting passively. I asked several people after the sermon what they thought, and none could find a "scriptural reason" not to do it, none found "anything wrong with with it", none "objected" to it, but I don't recall now that anyone was particularly in favor of it. I'm in favor of it.
I was afraid that because it was "different", it would be looked on with suspicion. I was afraid that the elders might put a kibosh on it, speaking to the new preacher in private and letting him know "we don't do that sort of thing here". Of course, that's probably just my paranoia speaking.
But I found it interesting (if not a bit disturbing), that he did not do the same thing in the evening sermon. Anh, surely that was just a coincidence flaming my paranoia. It will be interesting to see if the practice continues in future sermons.
Another thing that encouraged me about this preacher, is that he pointed out that Hebrews 10:24-25 is about encouraging others. He did not use this as a "proof-text" that we had to go to church, but rather, he used it as a "proof-text" that we should be encouraging one another unto love and good works, which I believe is more consistent with the emphasis of the passage. What really encouraged me was when he pointed out the meaning of the word "provoke" ("And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works"); the word means to "stir up". He had always believed that stirring up was a bad thing, as in "stirring up trouble". But he said that the text uses it positively, to stir up each other. I'm not sure he said this exactly, but what I heard was that we should shake each other out of our comfort zones, but I may have been inserting into his speech ideas born out of my own experiences of being chastised for disturbing the church's comfort zone. (I nearly gave him a verbal "Amen", but that is too far out of my comfort zone to do that just yet. Maybe in the future.)
Still another thing that encouraged me about this preacher is that he seems to be well-versed in the Bible, including the Tanakh (Old Testament). He references the Tanakh a lot; I get the sense that he's more well-rounded in Bible knowledge than I was expecting.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this new preacher is that I sense that he is open; he doesn't have his mind made up. He's confident in what he believes, but he's humble enough to look at other sides of an issue when presented to him. That's a very hard process, as I'm sure we'll all admit, but I believe he's likely to be someone who makes a better effort at it than most.
His whole attitude seems refreshing to me; the sense I get is that he has a humility, and a willingness to learn, and a concern about the spiritual aspects of reverence and desire for God (rather than a letter-of-the-law approach that I'm more accustomed to witnessing in that environment). The more I see of this guy, the more my spirit raises from its doldrums, hesitant to become hopeful, and yet yearning to hope that finally, here is a man who may approach God in Spirit, and not just in Truth. Can it be? Can it be?
Finally, the last thing I want to mention about how the choice of this preacher encouraged me yesterday, is that he actually said something that was new to me, rather than repeating the same message I've heard in church since I was three years old.
He mentioned that we often say things like, "Son, I'm proud of you", which we tend to think of as a good thing. But he did a survey of the usage of the words "pride" and "proud" in the Bible (finding something like 47 and 48 uses, respectively), and found that every one of the uses was negative. Being "proud", Biblically, is a negative thing. Rather, the Biblical example is to be "pleased with you".
His wife pointed out (this was in class, not during the sermon) that perhaps the language has changed, and we don't use the phrase "I'm proud of you" with the same meaning of the term "proud". The general consensus of the class is that "pride", as used in the Bible, refers to self-importance, but as she indicated, and as I agree, to be proud of someone really does not refer to one's self, but to the other person.
So our modern-day usage of "I'm proud of you" really means "I'm pleased with you." In essence, the meaning of the preacher's point was weakened, but I was exceptionally pleased that his underlying motivation was to be careful with our language. To me, that was the more important issue, the main point he was trying to make; he just chose a weaker example than he at first thought.
But I had never considered the possibility that something as "good" as telling another person that you're proud of them might be an anti-Biblical way of interacting with that person. This preacher made me consider this possibility (and somewhat, but perhaps not entirely, reject it academically, although I suspect I'll stop using the phrase in practice), and encouraged me by this possibility to be aware of the language I use.
In other words, this class session affected me, which is really rare. Most sermons/classes don't affect me, don't change me. And I can't say that this one made a 180-degree turn in my thinking, but it may very well have made a 2-degree course correction in my life. (And as I believe I've probably mentioned before, few people can handle 180s, whereas almost everyone can handle a 2-degree course correction every once in a while, so this small-change method might be more effective in the long-run than a large-change method.) But the point is that this preacher's message affected me. I'm quite pleased by the possibilities here.
Only time will tell how things work out. I've prayed for several years now that God might make this church into a healthy church. Dare my spirit have hope that God is acting on those prayers now? (Ya ever notice how God seems to take his time in answering prayers, when we expect instant results? What's up with that?)
And as a final note, inspired by that last sentence: we have a woman at church with some serious diseases, and she's been given about 6 months maximum to live. I've also been praying for her, that God might heal her, and again, it seems that God has taken his time about answering those prayers favorably, or perhaps he's unable to hear me due to failures on my end, or perhaps he's unwilling to respond favorably for his own purposes. But for her sake, and for her husband's sake, and for the glory to God that it would surely point to in this church that doesn't believe God performs miracles in the present-day, I pray for her healing. I'm afraid that even a last-minute healing that can not be explained medically would not sway this church into believing that God was directly involved -- it would be explained away as God's "providence", which is to say, "unexplained natural causes, because God doesn't perform miracles Today". Still, I think this woman herself, and perhaps her husband, would be convinced that God acted, if he were to give her complete healing at this last minute. I would love to see God's action; I would also love to see this woman granted another 20 or 30 years of life, in a healthy fashion, free of the pain she's suffered for the past several years. Could my cultural training be overcome by such an action of God, so that I could exult in saying, "God did this!"? Or would my cultural training over-ride my own eyes, and leave me doubtful of God's action in the present, believing deep in my soul the way this church does, that it was merely "Providence"? I write this note here, publicly, so that if God does choose to act and save this woman from disease, I will have no excuse to deny his mighty power and his willingness to listen to us lowly sinners. God, please heal this woman of her disease, and heal this church, and myself, of our unbelief. Let us have this reason to praise you, and to believe in Jesus more than we've ever done before.