Monday, June 25, 2007

Professional Preachers

I just got done listening to a recording of what I suppose was a sermon in a modern Christian church on the Star Spangled Banner. It's a beautiful story about those early patriots desperately clinging to their freedom, and finally withstanding the strength of the entire British armada.

But more than the content, I was struck by the manner of this sermon.

Let me give you a little background -- LDS churches don't have professional preachers. In fact, if you go to an LDS church on Sunday, you're not likely to find anyone there who receives a salary from the church.* What you are likely to find are the members themselves assigned to speak in church, and teach lessons in classes. They don't get paid for this, and they sure didn't ask for it. But they do it, and the end result is that you have sincere honest people learning the gospel, and how to teach and interact with people at the same time.

So LDS "sermons" are often delivered by folks who aren't professional speakers, nor do they have any personal agendas while they're speaking. They're sincerely trying to share an uplifting message and do the best they can. But they're often nervous and paced -- imagine how you feel when you talk in front of a group.

Back to the sermon I just heard -- this fellow's tone was quite different from that of LDS speakers. In fact, it sounded exactly like the tele-vangelists you see on TV. I think I can break the entonation down into 3 main types:
  1. Pounding -- the last word of each phrase is emphasized, as if being pounded into the congregation with a hammer
  2. Opera -- the vowels are drawn out and filled with vibrato, almost as if they were singing opera; most notable on the words "lord" and "me", for some reason
  3. Whisper -- hushed tones to offset the earlier poundings
I'm not trying to be facetious, only to make a point: these people are trying to make a living. I can see why some sermons become show, and preachers become entertainers -- they have to. If they don't impress the people, the people go somewhere else. So in that light it's easy to see where some congregations are fed "milk" instead of "meat", or candy concepts instead of doctrinal vegetables. Or choosing fun over of service, parties over personal preparation, rowdy bands over reverence.

This sermon was a show.

Contrast the words of the Savior:
"But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." - John 4:14
That's the best description I can find of how I feel about my church experiences, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

* General authorities (church-wide leaders) receive a "stipend", which I understand most of them turn down because in general they are a) generally mature/retired, or b) already quite wealthy from their own non-religious professional careers. Full time seminary and institute teachers are paid, as well as those who work for church industries (printing, food storage, distribution, etc.). Missionaries are *not* paid, and neither are ecclesiastical leaders, temple workers, or anyone called to positions at the ward or stake level. It's a volunteer organization.

I wonder what people think when they realize that President Hinckley does not live in a church-funded mansion nor does he live an extravagant lifestyle. Church service is not a professional endeavor for LDS members -- it's about doing our duty as citizens in God's kingdom, and enjoying the blessings of citizenship.

No comments:

Does anyone read this thing?

views since Feb. 9, 2008