Most people who know me know that I love watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the highest level of mixed martial arts competition in the world. My most favorite commentator is Joe Rogan. The other commentator is Mike Goldberg. The vast difference between Rogan and Goldberg is Rogan makes sense and Goldberg does not. The reason is because Rogan has trained extensively in martial arts.
I recall training at the dojo in jujitsu and kenpo a while back. I must say that martial arts training makes a big difference in watching a UFC fight. Without having trained in the arts, the UFC just looks like a bunch of brawling sweaty guys. To trained eyes, the brawl turns into poetry in motion. Whenever I sit around with a bunch of untrained “fans” (especially the hardcore ones, aka the beer chucking profanity laced wannabes), I always hear, “He could’ve arm barred this way” or whatever. Mike Goldberg is that kind of commentator. Whenever we sit around the dojo after a sweaty workout, the higher rank black belts always give us some more insights about how the fight could’ve gone. It’s through such dialogue that I can really tell whether this or that technique could’ve been used under duress in the cage. Rogan is that guy. He probably hangs around experts enough, and trained around them enough to give quite an insightful comment about all the techniques. He serves as a prefect example for preachers.
Preaching involves connection between the ancient text with pastoral concerns. In order to do a good job, we simply can’t be that “hardcore” fan who thinks he knows everything but doesn’t know what he doesn’t know (I use “he” because it’s mostly a male MMA fan trait. Sorry, ladies, you get left out of my stupid list this time). Most of us gain our knowledge from reading books only, no more than we can do martial arts through reading a book written by the Gracies. I know for most of us (except for my buddy Mitch who seems to be able to see a series of techniques once and execute all of them perfectly) learned by a combination of observation, discussion and practice. What we do need however is a community of such doers, men and women who are serious both about their pastoral passion and biblical studies. We need people around us to challenge us. We simply can’t do preaching by ourselves. We need a community of preachers.
Having written close to thirty books in a span of 7 years (in Chinese and English), many have asked me what my secret is. My secret (wait. should I share that?) is that I surround myself with good scholars. There’re certain people I tend to hang around with, especially among the theological elites of Hong Kong, whom I can bounce ideas off. At the same time, I can’t claim to have really original ideas. If you ever read my acknowledgement of each book, I always name those who have given me great ideas. That is the way to ensure that I improve and continue to produce quality research. We must do the same thing with preaching.
What can the church do about this? I always advocate that the church’s governing board creates space for the pastor to build such networks. How can they produce on the pulpit if they aren’t in a learning lifestyle? And how can they be learning if their time is occupies with the minutia of the church? An overly busy pastor is an indicator of inability to empower others to serve or the unwillingness of the church membership to serve. Neither is going to be helpful for the long haul. Thus, each struggling preacher needs to seek help from other good preachers. Think about the classmate who got straight A’s in biblical exegesis classes and preaching classes. Think about the classmate who has pastorally grown his church to a qualitatively healthy environment and quantitatively strong size. Those should be within our network.