Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Insults and connection at Union Gospel Mission

Three weeks ago, Union Gospel Mission’s star visiting preacher, Jimmy Roughton, said something -- an aside from the thrust of what he came to say -- that was very true, and relates to some discussions that have been going on lately.

I wasn’t taking notes, but the gist of what he said to the congregation was this:
I know you guys have a lot of preachers that come in here and lecture you or scold you about your rough life and rough ways and want you to feel bad about yourselves. But you guys know I love you, and I understand you, and I used to be out there myself, for ten years. During the lost 1980s, I was out there with you, so I know what it’s like. I’m here as an Encourager. I truly want the best for you.
There are many reasons Roughton is a highly effective preacher to the mission’s constantly shifting congregation, but the connection he makes and maintains every night he speaks is the heart of his success and popularity, even for those of us who aren’t the addicts which are, typically and understandably, the target audience he addresses.

In recent months, other preachers — those several who are the least skilled — have beaten up on the congregation in their various ways.

One visiting preacher repeatedly attacked the motives of the congregation for being it the seats in the first place. This is from my notes of snarky and uncool things he said:
“... this will be the best sleep you had all day” [After telling us he was going to address a difficult point of scripture.]

“You’re listening to me so that you can eat.” [Sure, the meal that follows the sermon is of interest. But, truly, the good majority of the guys are attentive to the speaker.]

“Some of you have strength in your jaws ‘cause you don’t stop talking.” [The preacher had lost his audience. Snide insults tend to do that to any group.]

“Forgive me I don’t want to say the same thing over and over.”

“One story real quick, I know you want to eat.”

“Some of you are here at the gospel mission, day in, day out.”

“Some of the people in this mission have heard this word over and over.”
Some preachers have the skills of the profession that is their calling; others, you have to wonder if they missed the call.

Some preachers make it very known that they blame homeless people for the circumstance they are in. Some preachers don’t have the foggiest idea what homelessness is about or what the experience is like. Other preachers — the good ones, the great ones, the amazing ones — for various reasons, seem very effective at communicating and touching hearts. And if their intention is to motivate reform among the addicts in the audience, they seem to find breakthroughs. And if their intention is to make an important point, they cut through clutter and fog and are clarifying.

Last night, Pastor Brett of Vacaville Bible Church was the preacher, after a two-month absence. His group is always fun and he's always well prepared, making the night Vacaville Bible Church comes to the mission ‘an event.’

Pastor Brett is wholly authentic at the podium, and joyous at the opportunity to speak before us. I think that last night he even told us that he was honored and happy to be preaching — but he doesn’t really have to say that, it all comes through in his enthusiasm and demeanor. Pastor Brett makes no claim to having keen knowledge of the life problems of those hearing him speak. His appeal is to what we all have in common.

Always, Pastor Brett comes with something important to say to us. [Last night, he talked about the message in James, chapter 4, regarding personal conflicts.] He engages the congregants such that his interest in his message, and how he relates to it, comes across, sparking our keen interest and thoughts about conflict in our relationships with others.

All the while, Pastor Brett is organized in what he has to say, lays in some appropriate, interesting (and often funny) personal anecdotes. And he’s a grown-up about it all. And he’s always positive and upbeat. Yet he’s humble. [Not Mother Teresa-equivalent humble, but egoless, anyway.]

Plus there are no jibes about anything, much less the common "you're just here for the food" quip. Which we're not (just there for the food, that is) when a group approaching Vacaville Bible Church’s all-around quality comes to the mission.

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