Let the Games Begin!
One of our family’s current TV show favorites is “Chopped” in which top chefs compete to make the best meal for a panel of judges. Those whose dishes are not up to par are “chopped” or eliminated from the competition. I thought maybe some kind of similar competition for preachers would be fun – something along the lines of the old Gong Show format. I’m not sure what to call it though – preachers out of favor in the old days would be stoned, beheaded, jailed, exiled, or dismissed but none of those sound good for a show name.
A bigger problem is what criteria for judging would be used? On “Chopped” the criteria are creativity, presentation and technique. No such criteria are agreed upon for preaching – though more & more its seems hair, dress, laughter and “hipness” seem what grabs popular attention. In contrast, John the Baptist was the first wild man with a perpetual bad hair day, Jonah preached covered in whale vomit, and the apostle Paul was dismissed as unsightly & boring. Probably no telegenic smiles in that bunch!
Charles Spurgeon in his “Lectures to My Students” reviews some of the pitfalls of preaching styles and mannerisms oh his own day. While my meager observations don’t come near his classic work, here are a few styles & pitfall I’ve noticed:
“The Hobby Horse Rider” is the preacher that has one or two favorite subjects and no matter the text or the season returns to them again & again. Sadly, these are usually pet peeves such as politics, the End Times, moral issues or what ever is the obsession of the month. Is it “Communion Sunday”? Gog & Magog dominate the message. Christmas? The evils of Federal Bureaucracy dominates. Easter Morning? A refresher course in dispensational theology is offered up. The gospel of the cross and the victory of the resurrection is buried beneath what ever irks the preacher.
“The Machine Gun Preacher” – This is the preacher that unloads at full volume, full speed and full load. He takes no hostages and hardly a breath as well. Its hard to follow what’s been said because the delivery is overwhelming. This specimen is rare but still around – if you encounter him – duck!
“The Marshmellow Preacher” – A marshmallow is sugar plus air & this preacher’s message is about the same. Stories, jokes and a nice feel good moral make up the bulk with the emphasis on “make ’em laugh” or “make ’em cry.” Just like a marshmallow provides no nutritional value, so the message of the marshmallow preacher is hard to remember 5 minutes after consumed.
Preaching has always been considered foolishness (1 Cor. 1:21). Its futility, obsolescence & eventual demise has been repeatedly pronounced from generation to generation in favor of the techno-gadget innovation of the moment. Yet, God chooses the foolishness of preaching and preachers to deliver the good news of his saving power.
How is it possible to judge success the success of preaching or a preacher? What criteria would be used? Popularity? Applause? Crowds? The prophets of old were told that their message would be ignored & rejected by listeners with deaf ears, blind eyes and hard hearts. It is a work of grace and the Holy Spirit to change the blind, deaf and hardened to hear and believe God’s truth. God could have chosen so many other ways to get his point across – but he didn’t. God chose the foolishness of preaching to deliver the saving message of the cross. While a gong show for preachers might be entertaining, it would miss the point. Its not about the messenger – its about the message, Jesus, the glory and revelation of God’s saving power.
“The preacher of the gospel is like the sower. He does not make his seed; it is given him by his divine Master…He has to leave the seed in the care of the Lord who gave it to him, for he is not responsible for the harvest, he is only accountable for the care and industry with which he does his work…Our duty is not measured by the character of our hearers, but by the command of our God.”