Preaching is a calling. It is a skill. In many ways, it is an art. Pick up a book on preaching, and you will find a definition of preaching. John Broadus says in his book On the Preparation of and Delivery of Sermons, “Preaching is the proclamation of God’s message by a chosen personality to meet the needs of humanity.” Each part of that definition is significant and deserves consideration, as evidenced by the treatment given to each in Broadus’ classic work.
In thinking about that definition on preaching, the one issue I have struggled with throughout my ministry is accepting the fact that God chose and wants to use this person, more specifically, this personality. Not everyone called to preach is an extrovert with world-class charisma who loves being front and center. If not for the truth that preaching is proclaiming the absolute perfect and life-changing Word of God, I would have no desire to stand in front of a crowd of people and speak. If not for the Gospel and the call of God on my life, I would be content to fade into the background and serve behind the scenes with all my heart.
Despite formal training and personal study, one of the lessons I have struggled with the most is learning to be comfortable in my own skin. I have watched, listened and interacted with other pastors and preachers through the years and thought, “I see why God called them to preach and into the Gospel ministry. If God would have seen fit to give me a different and less introspective and introverted personality, greater intellect, an infectious sense of humor or deeper reservoir of creativity, then I could preach the stars down. If I were more like my favorite preachers and heroes of the faith, then God could really use me.”
I seriously doubt I am the only preacher to have those thoughts and experience those feelings. I may be the only one to admit it…and in print to boot! There have been times when a preacher’s style, organization and presentation of God’s Word resonates with and speaks to me. When that happens, it awakens a strong desire to be like them and I begin to act like Calvin from the great Calvin and Hobbes comic Strip. One evening Calvin and Hobbes were out looking at the sky when Calvin sees a firefly. Immediately, a strained look appears on Calvin’s face as he stares at his rear end. After a few intense moments of concentration and rear end watching, his trusted and best friend Hobbes says, “Your rear hasn’t lit, if that’s what you’re wondering.” Calvin, still trying desperately to light his butt, responds, “I can’t even tell what muscle to flex.”
In my desire or effort to be better, (different) I am prone to fall into the trap of trying to imitate and create something in me that God did not put there. I will feel guilty because I am not like the other pastors and preachers who have made an impression on me. I fight desperately to flex a preaching muscle that I don’t have.
God, we would assume, knew what He was doing when He called us. (Please read sarcasm here). He knew who we were. He was aware of the unique personality bent residing in each of us with all its interesting and annoying quirks. He knew every detail of our lives and how it would impact the way we relate to people as pastor and preacher. God called me, a chosen personality, to preach the Gospel.
With all things, we need a word of caution. To say we are to be ourselves, become comfortable in our own skin and allow God to work through and on our personal style is not to be used as an excuse to cover poor preparation or mask a stubborn and lazy refusal to grow and refine the basic skills involved in becoming a good communicator of God’s Word. I can and should learn the essential skills for good sermon preparation: proper exegesis, proper sermon structure and the importance of explanation, argumentation, illustration and application in preaching. I can and should learn the basic elements of effective sermon delivery, the importance of posture, appearance, body language, body movement, using inflection, good diction, varying the rate of my delivery, eye contact and a host of other skills. Take the time and determine whether you preach best with a manuscript, brief outline or if you can successfully navigate the nether regions of preaching without notes.
Learn all you can from others, but don’t forget to learn what works for you. Learn who you are and how God made you and refine it. Yes, be yourself. Discover your own style. Learn to be comfortable in your own skin. No one wants to listen to our best impersonation of our favorite preacher. In the process of personal and professional growth, remember these words from Charles Swindoll, “Know who you are. Accept who you are. Be who you are.” Learn to flex the preaching muscles God has given to you.