Jump Start # 2211
2 Corinthians 10:10 “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible.”
I was talking with a preacher friend the other day about what I call the “performance of preaching.” Some preachers have a natural gift and knack at public speaking. They are so smooth, comfortable and they can capture an audience immediately. But it seems that sometimes we are more enthralled with the way a guy preachers than what he actually says. Style tends to win over substance. Some preachers have much depth and insight, but they don’t shine as much on the presentation aspect and as a result they are not popular, even though they have much we can learn from. And those with great presentations, often do not have much to say, but people flock to hear them. Substance and performance.
This is really nothing new to our times. Our verse today is a quote about how people viewed Paul’s preaching. His presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible. The ESV is more brutal: “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account.” Wow! Critical, cutting and hurtful. Those words were intended to hurt and I expect they may have. In contrast, the Bible describes Apollos as “an eloquent man,” “mighty in the Scriptures,” and, “fervent in the spirit” (Acts 18:24). And, to make matters worse for Paul, Apollos had preached at Corinth. It’s easy to see which one they would have liked the most. It’s easy to see who would have been their favorite. Eloquence tends to win over “no account.”
Every church wants to fill the pulpit with someone that is passionate and good. However, many a good preacher may be overlooked and passed on because his presentation isn’t as captivating as others. Performance vs. substance.
Here are a few thoughts:
First, all preachers need to continue to improve. They need to listen and watch other preachers. They need to read books about preaching. The man who does not try to get better soon becomes stale and stuck. Athletes are always trying to step it up in their game. The same ought to go for preachers. Not only should preachers listen to others, but they need to listen to themselves. We can come across as tired, cranky and out of touch if we are not careful. Look at the illustrations that you use. Are they dated? Look at what your sermon is trying to accomplish. You are trying to persuade people, not teach a college lecture. Don’t be a showoff nor try to impress people with your knowledge. Remember, God is in the audience.
Second, realize that preaching is an extension of one’s personality, experiences and knowledge. We are not going to be the same. And, more so, we are not in competition. We are on the same side. I love hearing men preach well. It makes me want to bring my A-game. We are all on this side of the kingdom doing the best that we can. When people hear my son Jordan preach, they teasingly say, “He’s better than you are.” I agree. No argument there. I’m glad and I want that. Two preachers can take the same text of Scripture and one will pull things out that most of us have never seen. The other will lay in so plainly on our front porch, that we can’t miss what it’s about. Different approaches. Different styles. Both very useful and helpful.
Many congregations are moving to a two preacher arrangement. Two men who preach each week. One in the morning and the other in the evening. Two different styles and often brought by two different generations of experience. Don’t compare one with the other. Don’t have your favorite and certainly do not stay home and skip services because my favorite isn’t preaching then. Support them both. You will learn from both. You will be helped by both.
Third, preacher egos can complicate things. The preacher has an ego. His work, his life is preaching. When someone says what was said to Paul, your preaching isn’t very good, it hurts. Tell mama, that the dinner she cooked isn’t very good and let’s go out to eat next time. Her feelings will be crushed. Tell some child that the stick figure picture that they drew for you is terrible and further, toss it in the trash, and the child will run the other way in tears. Tell your doctor that he’s a butcher and a quack and you’ll get an earful about the years it took to get him where he is at. Insensitive brethren who tend to be spiritual bullies, who like to run the church as if it is their place, have ruined many preachers by their thoughtless words. I remember years ago, standing beside a well known preacher who had preached for us that night. He was good. He’s one of my favorites and a dear friend. As people walked by, someone said, “I sure wish we could have preaching like that here all the time.” Yep. I was standing right there. I heard that. I started to think, maybe it’s time to pack my bags and hit the road. The preacher turned to me and in his kindness said, “they say the same thing every time we have a guest preacher back home.” With a wink and a pat on my back, he helped me.
Fourth, let’s be honest, the audience can be fickle. We love stories. But weeks later, the stories don’t do much for us. It’s the meat and bones of the Bible that builds our faith and helps us through the storms. When trouble comes, it’s not the stories that we turn to, but the word of God. What some may call stale and boring, others will say is incredible. Most preachers experience this every week. Someone will pass by and think the sermon was so-so. The next person will proclaim it’s one of the best sermons he’s heard in his entire life. They both heard the same sermon. How could that be? It’s more than the presentation, it’s hitting the needs of the person in the pew and where the person in the pew is at.
Those that excel so naturally at presentation must make sure they are saying something. Put some substance into your lessons. Those that have a way of finding great substance, work on improving your presentation.
The purpose of the sermon is to help me spiritually. It is to bring me to Christ. It is to help build that spiritual foundation. The sermon ought to answer questions, drive out fear and worry and challenge me to do more and do better. How we get there through the sermon is a work of art. Some slave long and hard at writing a sermon. Some can do it quickly and easily. Sermons are crafted like a writer putting together a story or a musician writing a song. There’s no one correct way to go about it other than opening up God’s word and thinking.
Our preachers are just one way God helps us on our journey. Thank them. Support them. Encourage them. And, realize we have different talents and abilities. And, be thankful that we are all on the same side, trying to win this battle against Satan.