Garrison Keillor, on A Prairie Home Companion,
tells about Uncle Cal, a deacon at the church in fictitious Lake
Wobegon. Uncle Cal evaluates his pastor’s preaching this way: "It’s a
lot of, ‘On the one hand this, on the other hand that.’ He never comes
out straight with it. Many a Sunday I’ve walked away with no idea what
he said. He never puts the hay down where the goats can get it."
Yes, there are some preachers who have a lot of hay,
vast amounts of exegetical information. They’re theologically aware.
They like to study ancient languages. They have the hay, but they don’t
know what the goats are talking about or thinking about. And what’s
worse, they don’t know that they don’t know the goats. Often they don’t
even like the goats. They would prefer not to be around goats. They
forget that the first test of good teaching is not what the teacher has
taught; it’s what the learner has learned. They have all this wonderful
hay, but they forget that they are stewards of getting hay to goats.
But there are also preachers who know the goats, and
who are very clever at being able to attract lots and lots of goats.
They can hold the goats’ attention, but they have no hay. They have
nothing of substance. It’s all superficial stuff. And what’s worse,
they don’t know that they don’t have any hay.
As preachers and teachers, our job is to get the hay
down where the goats can get it. That means immersing ourselves in
Scripture and great writing and deep thoughts. But it also means
becoming a student of the goats: learning what moves them, what their
questions are, and what gives them hope.