It is a difficult thing to preach. Years of study on the content on top of years of learning public speaking make it out to be a task more than some people may realize. It takes a sincere amount of preparation, theological and philosophical accuracy, as well as balancing logic, emotion and ethics. Again, it is a difficult thing to preach.
Be Yourself or Don’t Be Yourself
In seminary circles, there is a debate concerning how much of themself a preacher should put into a sermon. The spectrum goes from “sure, let the preacher put their personality and favorite themes in there” to “nope, let the preacher get out of the way and just say what the text says.”
If the preacher allows the content to be preached THROUGH them, then the preacher becomes the lens and filter on the text. If the preacher tries to get out of the way, they will inevitably find that they cannot just do that. God has always spoken through people. Broken, unrefined people.
Kierkegaard Changes It Up
Soren Kierkegaard was a philosopher in Denmark. He was an incredibly thorough thinker, and often would examine a topic from a hundred angles. One of his most famous writings was a critique of the “Christianity” that he saw in his day. In reality, it is a scathing critique. He was not a fan of what he saw at all. And perhaps that is what makes his, now famous, quote so famous…
“People have an idea that the preacher is an actor on a stage and they are the critics, blaming or praising him. What they don’t know is that they are the actors on the stage; he (the preacher) is merely the prompter standing in the wings, reminding them of their lost lines.”Soren Kierkegaard
Using the imagery of theater, he subverted the common question that everyone was asking. It doesn’t matter about the person delivering the sermon, what matters is who and what the sermon is for…
Is the sermon designed to be encouragement, education, entertainment, devotional, evangelistic? One of them, all of them?
Unfortunately, we tend to take the sermon and critique it for being “good” or “bad.” Rarely, do we purposefully come to church for the purpose of being told where we are wrong. As GK Chesterton says, “I do not need a religion that tells me where I am right, I need one that tells me where I am wrong.”
Now, this isn’t to say that every sermon should be a “fire and brimstone”/”you’ll go to hell” sermon. It DOES mean that a sermon should sting a bit, a sermon that does not poke or prod or tip over some of your sacred cows isn’t quite living up to Kierkegaard’s standards. Well, perhaps they aren’t really Kierkegaard’s standards, but they might be God’s.
Jesus himself, standing in the tradition of the prophets, spoke and preached openly outside of the temple courts. More than that, it was these very teachings that he gave that got him into trouble, so much trouble that he was eventually killed for it.
The preaching office is not for the faint of heart, and maybe the same should be said for those gathered to hear it. Yes, there is encouragement and hope in every sermon because the main topic is God, but there is no authentic encouragement or hope where there is not first discouragement or despair.
So next time you hear a sermon, perhaps prepare yourself by imagining yourself on a stage and the preacher being the one giving you cues about how you can better play your part in the grand theater of God.