“To be a preacher is to be called to love God more than our congregations.
“Barth underscores the way in which faithful preachers exist in a rather ambiguous, potentially contentious relationship to their congregations. The congregation is the Body of Christ, that gathering whom God has convened to hear the royal proclamation, but the congregation is full of the same incomprehension, cowardice, disbelief, and rebellion that is found in any human gathering when it is assaulted by the Word. We preachers meet no resistance to the Word that was not first encountered in our own hearts. As Barth might put it, the church is just as full of ‘religion’ and therefore full of idolatry and credulity, resistance and artful dodging of the Word. Though the church may say that it wants to hear the Word of God … the church lies. Perhaps resistance to the Word is even more pronounced in the church … Church therefore tends to be not only training in discipleship but also in various techniques of avoiding the Word of God.
“Although Barth speaks of preaching as an ecclesiastical activity … preaching is prior to and superior even to the church. Preaching is the peculiar speech of the church, but it is not authorized or dependent upon the church and therefore may often be experienced as against the church, in order to be for the church. The words of the sermon are not a congregationally derived Word; that Word comes from God to the church. Preachers must be willing to risk conflict, resistance, and rejection by the church in order to be faithful to the church’s peculiar vocation: joyful subservience to the Word. Preachers are to serve the Word, not to be aquiescent to the congregation. In a day when pastoral care for and caring about the needs of the congregation has virtually overwhelmed much of Christian ministry, Barth reminds us that the best and most loving service that we clergy can render to our people is utter subservience to the Word.
William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006), pp. 244-45.