Well, I had my first assessed service - not my first ever assessed service but my first in terms of the assessment team coming from my new "base" in Cambridge rather than my usual colleagues in London. The service was a rather difficult one as it was taking place on remembrance Sunday and I'm a hardcore pacifist who was determined to preach a totally pacifist sermon!
Taking my pacifist views into the pulpit was not necessarily the wisest thing to do - but what do we do as preachers when the Holy Spirit urges us to preach on something difficult? After all the word of God is 'sharper than any two-edged sword'! Faced with this challenge I decided that I wouldn't tone down a sermon which I myself have to admit was bloody hard to write, let alone preach. In challenging the congregation, I myself was faced with a challenge, not only did I find myself having to go over my thoughts on war, but, I also found myself struggling to see how pacifism worked out in some very difficult situations. I soon realised that if we all waited till we had worked out everything that was floating around the topics we were preaching on - then we would never preach!
Doubts, fears, confusion, challenge aside - the sermon was preached, and to my surprise, it was well received!
After the service more than half the congregation said how helpful it was to be made to think for a change and how much they appreciated the challenging sermon. I still of course, had no idea what my assessors thought of it all and I had a three day wait before I was given the verdict.
Knowing how much of a risk I took by preaching such a hard to hear message - I was expecting the worst but every member of the assessment team agreed that I preached in an informed and challenging way and that it was great to have such a thoughtful response to a very hard topic.
I was then taken aback, when the focus changed from the sermon itself to the supposed authority and presence which I am said to carry....... I'm not aware of this myself but it did make me think.
For me, preaching has always been about making sure I preach about the 'hard to hear' things. After all, Is there really any point in us preaching if all we are going to do is patronise people by telling them what they already know - or - is it about dealing with some of the hard, tough, questions which the Gospel often faces us with?
I think it's the latter rather than the former and I hope we all keep challenging those we are preaching to, I hope we all keep challenging ourselves! And if you happen to be a person who spends more time in the pew than the pulpit then you ought to tell your preachers when they're not doing what they should be because you only get the preaching you deserve!