Monday, May 13, 2013

The Romance of Preaching and Performance


The word performance indicates playing a part or imitating a character. It carries with it a sort of thespian quality or the display of a certain talent, both of which makes it part of the family of entertainment. You go to a concert to hear a musician demonstrate his proficiency; you attend a play to be impressed by the acting abilities of the players; you go to a sporting event to see athletes use their talents in competition; and even political debates are judged on performance and not substance. In this world performance is far more cherished than is substance. Performance is the mainstay of western culture which thrives on titillation, exhilaration, and amusement.

I Cor.1: 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

Preaching is not just speaking as in presenting a research paper. It isn’t just reading a theory. It isn’t just a generic communication of facts. There is a mystery, a divine authority and power and a divine commission associated with true preaching. The preaching that is ordained of God is a process of communicating divine truth in a way that allows the Spirit to touch base in the ears and go all the way to the heart. It is a great mystery but true preaching does not rely on the personality of the man, nor his intellect, nor does it depend upon his level of academic training. Yes, there is a connection between the spiritual commitment of the preacher and the spiritual power generally afforded his preaching, however sometimes the grace of God even accomplishes His will in spite of human disobedience.

The preaching of God’s Word is the highest calling in vocation and in the Spirit. It transcends human speech which is usually an attempt to present some case of earthly design. This kind of communication called preaching is a magnificent ministry of the Spirit. Unseen and many times unnoticed, the Spirit takes His own words through fragile lips and gives them the wings of life which often find a soil with which to plant a seed which will later bring forth fruit. It is an amazing act of eternal grace. In fact only the Spirit can move in the temporal and accomplish the eternal especially within the carnal and fallen hearts of God’s worst enemies.

And after a sinner has heard the gospel and believed, he grows by feeding himself through the same Word and by the same Spirit that were used to transform him into a new creature. And he also grows and is edified through the preaching of God’s Word by someone called and anointed to proclaim and teach that Word. The spiritual gift of teaching is when someone to whom God has given that gift faithfully surrenders his own will and teaches God’s Word under the power of the same Spirit who gave him that gift. And if that vessel uses his gift in brokenness and humility then God’s Spirit can anoint His words with power far beyond his ability or oratorical prowess or even his oratorical liabilities.

Throughout church history there were always men who relied upon the strength of their personalities and would draw great crowds. Being self absorbed and desiring the adulation of people is not new to our generation. In fact it is a liability which lays dormant in all of us and sometimes quietly comes to life and tempts us. All preachers must do battle within themselves so that we are not at the mercy of whether people like or dislike us, or like our preaching or do not. We must always preach God’s Word and for God and not for people. It sounds easy, but the forces of wickedness and our own flesh are sometimes very cunning.

But seemingly in these modern times the allurement of entertainment and emotional thrills have demanded a more performance dominated method of preaching. There is nothing wrong and sinister about preaching with passion and emotion, but there is something extremely sinister when preaching becomes an art form accentuated with much humor and storytelling and a thespian-like delivery. And in this generation many so called preachers strut their stuff on television screens and in large churches and rented stadiums to the excitement of great crowds. And make no mistake, entertainment and great performances are rewarded with colossal offerings and big business among the trinket tables.

Many of these ecclesiastical thespians act out their stories with great and swelling words and with great deference to their personalities and performance abilities while paying precious little attention to the authority and purity of God’s Word. Many people will applaud intermittently during the performance, and some will even rise to their feet to show appreciation for what has become a stirring performance. Men like Joel Osteen tell a joke before he even “preaches” his redundant message. That alone should give you an indication about what he preaches and what he does not preach.

Men like T. D. Jakes is a fantastic story teller who walks all over the stage making pantomimes and using body language and facial gestures to tell his elongated stories. And all of this to an appreciative crowd who responds to his alluring and uplifting message as well as his performance itself. Many times preachers will elicit the desired response by saying things like “Oh, you aren’t hearing me” or “Don’t get quiet on my now” and other phrases which draw more audience participation. A performer desires to be acknowledged and appreciated for his performance. I have heard many a performer say, “Man, this is good preaching!” about his own preaching.

The message is Biblically unsound but the performance is overwhelming. Jesse Duplantis is little more than a stand up comedian who preaches nonsense and has made a literal fortune telling people they can be rich as well. In reality all his listeners need is a mailing list. But imagery is now carefully crafted and earthly allurements have muscled out eternal promises. And in order to deliver these fables men and women have refined wonderful performances that fill stadiums and titillate crowds. And with the atmosphere of a multi-level marketing meeting these puppet masters present their greatest performances which only serve to bring more into their deceptions.

Another way these pretenders perform is through a supposed channeling of God’s voice. “Thus sayeth the Lord” is the preamble that allows them to speak things they suggest is being spoken directly by the Spirit. And people listen in awe as if they are hearing from God verbally. Miracles are also leveraged in order to provide an atmosphere of the divine. Words of knowledge concerning many maladies are thrown out and caught by whichever unsuspecting follower thinks it applies to him. And the miracle is often activated either by some seed faith gift of money or by the performer’s own hands laid upon the person. Yes, it is your show of shows.

But true and faithful preaching must never be weighted toward anyone’s personality or their delivery. The Word of God must be the power. That does not mean we cannot raise our voices and show emotion of even tell some story which can be used to illuminate a Biblical principle. But most of us know what is a performance and what is of the Spirit. These modern preachers do not even walk a fine line, and when their messages are so unbiblical and carnal, it reveals the necessity of an entertainment laden performance.

But there are so many itching ears out there that the demand motivates the supply. And spiritual success is measured by crowds and money and personal jets and book sales. And instead of humble men of God you now have celebrities who own more than one home and attend their own book signings. And instead of feeding the sheep they fleece them. And instead of being instruments of the Spirit they are court jesters. And instead of spreading the kingdom of God they spread their own kingdom. It has become a pitiful cast of characters who have become wealthy in their own religious theatre. The romance between preaching and performance is now a marriage.

Preaching God’s Word is a sacred calling of the Spirit. It requires personal brokenness. It requires a deep searching of the heart. It requires a constant vigilance concerning motives and manipulation. To be used as a human conduit to convey God’s truth and God’s gospel is a great honor which includes grave consequences. None of us can claim perfection or even complete surrender at all times. But hopefully and prayerfully we are not performers on some stage whose desire is to stimulate the fleshly juices and thereby elicit the praises of men. God forbid.


Anonymous said...

Very true.

My discovery of men doing theatrics during preaching came when they would preach how they "couldn't stand it when members folded their arms in the pews while the minister preached, or they couldn't stand it when people wouldn't raise their hands in worship. They'd mimic those in the back pews with a scowl on their face, for a laugh. They make references to how during prayer services they see people's heads rise above the pew or chair back, peering over to watch those who pray walking back and forth. These were called by the preacher, "racoon warriors" because their eyes that peered out looked like a raccoon. The point of that said, was to shake those at prayer from not keeping their eyes open, but to concentrate on their prayers and stop watching others. In my mind, though, I wondered how the pastor was praying if he had his eyes open noticing all those racoons.

I've been there and done that in peachings that made 'fun' of different people during worship service. Pastor calling some 'kooks' that just came to church for attention. The language is not fitting for a Holy Ghost-filled man of God. It condescends. And the audience eat it up, clapping and cheering.

I thank God I'm not a preacher because I wouldn't pass the test. When I get cornered or nervous, I use my dull humor to cover up my imperfections. I need to change that. I know how difficult it must be for pastors to preach without letting their personality traits (good or bad) show. We are human after all.

But I agree here that the mega pastors, and more and more performance pastors, will stop at nothing to use some clever new trend to sway the trend-followers. For instance, even in a smaller church I attended, the young pastor felt to put the podium away and sit on those tall cafe stools to teach. He was using a trendy cultural tool for what? To look cool to the kids? Then came in the props for his teaching. Then the huge screens on the walls and different-angled camera installations and better musical installations. None of this is 'bad', but it shows that the power in the preaching must be at a low ebb and the carnality must be brought in to counter what's missing to spark the crowds. Jesus used a field and spoke to the hundreds.

I was reading old history records of two great revivals in Canada. One in Nova Scotia and the Atlantic provinces in the 1800's by a man named Mr. Alline. And another revival in the early 1900's in Saskatchewan. I expect the pure gospel message was preached in canvas tents or old dusty buildings, or in Mr. Alline's case, under the clouds and stars. The duress of living in this area in those days, without any comforts, drew hundreds of people to be saved, and filled with God's Spirit. This man preached over several thousand sermons over his short lifetime, and he died at 34 years of age. But, this revival spread and spread. No one knows about this man, and neither did I. THeir names aren't in the theological history books. I expect they didn't use props and need charisma and charm to lure people. They had the 'message' spoken of on a hard rock on a cold damp windy day. If our preachers today had their services on a river bed, or a rocky beach, without seats and roofs, would we go? I know I would. I think the simplicity of the gospel needs a man of simplicity to preach it, where no man-made tools distract us from anything, except to focus on the Lord.

There is no shame in being plain, or speaking eloquently, when it brings glory to God. God used the giftings he gave each one, but I think He expects each gifted child to use the gift wisely focusing on the Word, without any crutches of man-made gizmos.


Anonymous said...

Please let me correct in my earlier post about the evangelist Henry Alline; his ministry was in the 1700's during the war of Independence/England instead of 1800's.


Anonymous said...

Compared to our brothers in the hostile countries who preach under extreme conditions and who are held to the highest strict standard as Jesus walked in His earthly ministry to preach the Good news, does not God our Father
Expect any less in those He calls? From the OT prophets,
Christ, to Paul they all had to endure as God prepared them
There's thousand s and thousand s of pastors in this country
How many are truly called of God to Shepard ? Maybe when true persecution comes we will find out ,

Anonymous said...

We have heard the joyful sound: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Bear the news to every land, climb the mountains, cross the waves;
Onward! ’tis our Lord’s command; Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Waft it on the rolling tide: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Tell to sinners far and wide: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing, you islands of the sea; echo back, you ocean caves;
Earth shall keep her jubilee: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Sing above the battle strife: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
By His death and endless life Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout it brightly through the gloom, when the heart for mercy craves;
Sing in triumph o’er the tomb: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Give the winds a mighty voice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Let the nations now rejoice: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Shout salvation full and free; highest hills and deepest caves;
This our song of victory: Jesus saves! Jesus saves!

I love this song it reminds me of the camp meetings that we would attend where my dad was preaching.

Where it was Jesus who was the utmost of our worship, and it was Jesus who saved sinners, not the messenger.

I was taught that every message that is preached should and only be about Jesus.

It was by His breath that gave me life. I am not pro-choice, I am not pro-life, I am Pro-Everlasting Life. By the shed blood of Jesus Christ am I cleansed and made whole. Jesus is, was, and will always be the Great I AM.