Notes from a First Year Preacher
Personal Preaching: Sharing Stories in the Pulpit
I can't say whether I've talked about my own story too much or too little, only that when I do talk about my story, it has power. It has the power to alienate and it has the power to draw in. It opens some people to go deeper into their own story and it closes down others who can't hear beyond it. It increases intimacy with the congregation and it can also create a co-dependency. Wisely disclosing our personal stories as pastors is a tricky thing and requires a lot of sensitive discernment, acquired only through trial and error, I'm afraid.
Some pastors seem to risk little of their own story. It gives a certain level of protection from the congregation and ensures that one's own story doesn't interfere with pastoral counseling. A prudent choice. However, I wonder as time goes on, if this kind of pastoral relationship will be a casualty of our shifting cultural relationship with religion. Faith that doesn't land in the midst of one's own life is going to be unacceptable. In the midst of wire transfers and electronic communication, the opportunity to gather together and hear stories may be one of the gifts faith communities can bring. In a world where Google can answer most questions, people don't need the pastor to hold all the answers, but they do need to find a way to live with the answers they find. This movement toward story is a move forward and also a move back—back to the stories that were told in oral tradition, back to the gift of true community where you are known and seen and heard.
If we really believe the Word of God is living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, then we will talk about our stories because that Word is still active today, still speaking into hearts and into the life of this world. And for the most part, it doesn't show up in clean theological constructs—it shows up in stories.
Jenny Warner is the Pastor for Justice, Spirituality, and Community at First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. She graduated from Biola University with a B.A. in Intercultural Studies and Psychology in 1992, and in 2010, received a Masters of Divinity from San Francisco Theological Seminary. She is a trained spiritual director, certified by Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle.