The Prompter

You might notice that my sometimes weekly blog has a new heading. Money Talks and First Things have made room for “The Prompter.” It’s a name that needs, as Ricky Ricardo might say, “Some ‘splainin'”. So here goes.

Soren Kierkegaard was a mid-1800’s Danish author, poet, theologian, and existential philosopher. Old Soren’s ideas have influenced modern thought more than most of his ilk and era. But my favorite SK pondering has lately fallen out of favor. Frankly, it has been forgotten, devalued and overthrown at the individualist insistence of modern churches and their worshippers. Yet, I suppose if he felt the need to opine about this way back in 18-something, it might not be an entirely new development. Here it is in a nutshell.

The term “Audience of One” originated in Kierkegaard’s book “Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing.” In it, he confronted the worship trend – yeah, they had those then – to see pastors as performers. He carried the metaphor out to suggest the people had become the audience, and God, at best, their prompter. In drama, the prompter is the quiet one who sits in the wings and feeds the actors their lines when needed. So in short, God helps the preacher who uses his sometimes considerable (or not) gifts to deliver a message to the liking congregants whose spiritual experience will rest on their assessment of the music and message delivered before them.

SK turns this idea on its head, returning a far more biblical and practical view of the preaching relationship. God is the Audience of One, the object of our worship and affection. That also affords God the role of critic, one many parishioners seem to covet for themselves. The worshippers are the actors, learning and lifting their prayers, praise, and affection to God. Pastoral leaders, bring a word from the God who called them to the peculiar people they are called to. The hope is that this prompts the followers to deepened faith and understanding, vibrant expressions of worship, and an actualized faith. That is worship, and the pastor to people relationship, at its very, very best.

Hence, “The Prompter.” Because three decades and change into the life of ministry, I know that’s what I am. Moreover, that’s what I am supposed to be. I am a fellow struggler vocationally called to love and lead these particular people by way of my relationship with God and with them. I am called to prompt understanding of and commitment to the mind, heart, and radical values of Jesus. I am called to walk with you through life’s hills and valleys. I am called to prompt us to view our world through the lens of Jesus and the way he wants it, not the other way around. I am called to prompt a people to express and expand the very presence of God in the city where he has placed us. In this prompting, I am called to comfort the disturbed. And disturb the comfortable. I am called to prompt us all to hold tight to the things that are essential and eternal and keep a loose grip on all else. Above all, I am called to prompt my people to love, and do all things in the spirit of God, who is love.

Another existential poet and philosopher, Kris Kristofferson sings about fellow singer-songwriters, and probably himself, in “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33.”

He’s a poet, and a picker. He’s a prophet, and a pusher.
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he’s stoned.”

I am and have been a lot of those things. Add to that alliterative list, “Prompter.” Through my words, spoken or written, that’s what I do. To me, preaching is not a performance, but an ongoing conversation with people I care about. It is a reflection of the journey I am on, and the journey we share. Thanks for affording me this role. And thank you for embracing yours. As we do, I pray we please and honor the Audience of One, whose role it is to inhabit our praise, and through His Son and Spirit, lovingly give our lives meaning and joy.