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.”
“All the world tastes of the Lord’s sparing mercy, those who hear the gospel partake of his inviting mercy, the saints live by his saving mercy, are preserved by his upholding mercy, are cheered by his consoling mercy and will enter heaven through his infinite and everlasting mercy”
Charles Spurgeon – Psalm 103: 8
“I believe in the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love.”
“…make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. “
“Divine grace like a smoothly flowing, fertilizing, full and never failing river, yields refreshment and consolation to believers. This is the river of the water of life of which the church above as well as the church below partakes evermore…Happy are they who know from their own experience that there is such a river of God.”
(Treasury of David, C.H. Spurgeon)
(Come to think of it some of my favorites had no hair on their chinny-chin-chin)
Borrowed from Warren Cruz
“Still you cavil at this doctrine and that doctrine, railing at the gospel system in general; and if you were asked at a working man’s conference, why you did not go to a place of worship, you would perhaps say that you kept away from worship because you did not like this doctrine or that.
Let me say on my own account, that as far as I am personally concerned, it is a very small consideration to me whether you do like my doctrine or do not; for your own sake I am anxious above measure that you should believe the truth as it is in Jesus; but while you live in sin, your dislike of a doctrine will very probably only make me feel the more sure of its truth, and lead me to preach it with more confidence and vehemence.
Think you that we are to learn God’s truth from the likings or dislikings of those who refuse to worship him, and want an excuse for their sins? O unconverted men and women, it is very long before we shall come to you to learn what you would have us preach, and when we fall so low as to do that, you yourselves will despise us. What! Shall the physician ask his patient what kind of medicine he would wish to have prescribed? Then the man needs no physician, he can prescribe for himself. Show the doctor out at the back door directly. What is the use of such a physician?
Of what service is a minister who will truckle to depraved tastes and sinful appetites, and say, ‘How would you like me to preach to you? What smooth things shall I offer you?’ Ah souls! We have some higher end to be served than merely pleasing you. We would save you by distasteful truths, for honeyed lies will ruin you. That teaching which the carnal mind most delights in, is the most deadly and delusive. With many of you, your beliefs, and tastes, and likes, must be changed, or else you will never enter heaven.”
Found at the Sacred Sandwich
(If this humorous reference to a 19th century controversy is too obscure for ya read more here )