Preaching as Performance: We Live & Die by the Same Sword


Sometimes, I'm overly sensitive to what people say to me about my sermons. I have no idea how common this is among fellow ministers, but I have a particular bent which the Lord continues to hammer out of me. Technically, it is a form of performance orientation, and I come by it honestly in at least two ways. It's not only an extremely common trait in those with my personality type, but I also began performing on stage at the age of 5. In high school, under the tutelage of our debate and drama coach (my dad), I even had the distinction of being awarded first-team all-state in acting, something you probably didn't even know existed!

I remember distinct advice from a seminary homiletics professor, Dr. Jimmie Nelson, warning my classmates and I as preaching students to never take too seriously negative comments about our sermons. "You'll never be everyone's cup of tea," he said. Sounded good to me.

Then, he added, an even more serious admonition, "What would be worse would be to take too seriously those who are overly effusive about how great your sermons are!" Ouch!

"Ultimately," he concluded, "the goal isn't to hear, 'What a great message!' but rather, 'What a great God!'" Well, yeah.

Indeed, even Paul mentions the issue of performance by the messenger and how such a bent can completely sabotage the message and, ultimately, its intended work of the One who sent it. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

Now THAT I've had to learn to take personally. Truly, I think God put Paul's comments in there for me. And for you, perhaps, if you're one who is oriented toward "performance" in your preaching.

In a future post, I plan to share some healthy ways to handle criticism about our sermons, but first I think I should address the particular issue which makes some of us more sensitive, too sensitive, to such negativity when it comes. And, oh does it ever come!

Very early in my ministry days, I became so aware of my need for approval of my preaching I decided to stop standing at the door to greet worshippers on their way out of church. And, not for the reason you might think. I wasn't trying to avoid negative comments. I realized people felt some sort of social obligation to say something nice about my message as they shook my hand at the door. So, I simply quit standing at the door. I remained available for people to come greet me, but only if they wanted to do so. No obligation because I was standing between them and the door.

Obviously, the average pew sitter probably takes preaching to be some sort of performance. But, that doesn't mean we as preachers have to treat it that way.

Related articles: Five Mistakes I Wish I Had Made Sooner / Handling the Cheapest of Commodities: Criticism / How should I respond when praised?