I have decided that an intelligent parrot could be taught to preach. Oh, I will confess that I’ve never seen nor heard it happen, but I’ve seen and heard smart parrots do enough other things that teaching one to preach does not seem, at least to me, too much of a stretch.
No, I’m not really advocating sending your pet parrot to seminary. My real point is that any naturally bright person can preach without either a call or special gift from God — or so it might seem.
“I’m worried about my son,” the old man said. He is the father of a pastor and he came to talk with me not long ago. A godly man, he expressed with sorrow what he had concluded after hearing his son preach many times: “He sounds terrific,” the Dad said, “but he has the words without the vibes. He even admits that he doesn’t have a call. He speaks of his ministry as his career.” Pressed to explain further, that Dad said that he has long been concerned that his son’s lifestyle at home does not match what he says in the pulpit.
It is possible to read and study Bible commentaries and other preachers’ sermons and repeat what they say, perhaps even with apparent passion. One story tells about a famous actor whose oratorical skills made him a favorite in many circles. Once, as the guest of honor at a social gathering, he received numerous requests to recite favorite excerpts from various literary masterpieces, which he did with finesse. An aged preacher who was there asked the actor to read Psalm 23. The actor agreed on the condition that the preacher also would read the Psalm.
The actor’s reading was a masterful performance, beautifully intoned with great dramatic emphasis. When it was over, he received a lengthy standing ovation. The aged preacher next rose to speak. As he read, his voice was rougher than sandpaper and broken from years of preaching without a microphone. His enunciation was not nearly as polished as the actor’s. Yet when that old preacher finished there was not a dry eye in the room. Someone asked the actor what made the difference. He replied, “I know the Psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”
When I told that story to the father who came to see me, he said, “That is what I mean.” We all know someone who fills church pulpits with regularity using only natural abilities, occasionally enhanced with some special training. Their pulpits may be filled, but their souls are empty. They are preaching parrots, simply repeating what someone else said before them.
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
If you and I will preach with authenticity so that our preaching would survive the judgment, then let us preach, teach, and exhort with the kind of passion that comes only through the genuine call and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray that the Spirit of the living God would raise us above ourselves and far above our natural abilities so that the people would know that we know both the text and the “Shepherd.”
Robert Leslie Holmes is Senior Pastor of Saxe Gotha Presbyterian Church in Lexington, SC. His latest book is When Good Enough Just Isn’t Good Enough (Ambassador International).