In recent years I have, on several occasions, heard people discuss where they were when they heard about President Kennedy’s assassination. One thing I haven’t heard discussed is who they first heard the news from. Isn’t it interesting that when a report is significant enough, we can so easily forget the person who brought it?
On the other hand, Bob Hope has brought me countless hours of laughter, but I couldn’t tell you a single joke I’ve ever heard him deliver. He stands out in my mind, not what he says.
That must have been what Phillips Brooks had in mind when he said, during his Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale:
“The minstrel who sings before you to show his skill will be praised for his wit, and rhymes, and voice. But the courier who hurries in, breathless, to bring you a message, will be forgotten in the message that he brings.”
You won’t need to watch many Sunday morning religious programs on television before you realize how much the minstrel-mentality has invaded the contemporary pulpit. With a half-hour of carefully-designed sets, bright-eyed young singers and frequent pitches for contributions, it’s hard to tell where the entertainment ends and the gospel begins.
The danger lies in the pressure to bring such antics into the local church. Will congregations which have spent the week glued to prime-time television have any interest in listening to someone stand in the pulpit and proclaim God’s word? Like network executives in search of ratings, we can be tempted to adopt the latest gimmick, concentrate on hairstyles and fashions, spend more time on jokes than on interpreting God’s Word.
Being a minstrel can even produce a crowd, so long as each show is better than the one before … and better than the show down the street.
On the other hand, the preacher who understands his calling to be a messenger of God’s Word may have to sacrifice a certain amount of fame. His congregation is likely to think far more about the truths he preaches than about his delightful delivery. They may hear God’s Word and forget the preacher altogether.
L. D. Johnson told the story of a little boy who scurried onto the platform after church, climbed up to the pulpit microphone, and began to call out into the mike, “Look at me! Look at me!” An older man turned to his wife and said quietly, “I think we’ve heard that sermon before.”
As messengers of a living God, may our message always be, “Look at Him.”

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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