My wife and oldest daughter are theater addicts. My oldest daughter is a theater and communications major so I hear this stuff all the time. We have season tickets to her plays at the Baptist college she attends. When she and her mother get together, they can talk about a Broadway play for hours on end. My wife has been in charge of costuming for the spring play at the Christian school sponsored by our church.
When I was growing up, my dad wanted to keep me away from sixties rock and roll so he made sure I was familiar with ‘real music.’ I grew up hearing the music of people like the late Gordon McRae. I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve seen musicals like ‘Oklahoma’ and ‘Carousel.’
When we were in Seminary, someone gave us tickets to Theater Under the Stars where Yul Brenner was starring in the road production of ‘The King and I.’ It was my first glimpse into the professional theater.
When we lived in Fort Worth, we attended a few plays at Casa Manana in Fort Worth, Texas. While living in Georgia, we’ve been to the Fox Theater on numerous occasions when a Broadway play would come to town. One Christmas, our family spent Christmas in New York City. We attended two plays and went to Radio City Music Hall for their Christmas production.
All of this exposure to Broadway productions has caused me to think. For instance, I can now tell the difference between a quality, professional performance and an amateur production. There’s nothing wrong with a play put on by amateurs. Professionals got their start as amateurs. The only problem is that some people talk about a second rate production as if it were ready for Broadway. Church people are especially prone to this exaggeration during their Christmas and Easter programs. Somehow, we’ve gotten the idea that a bathrobe and a bale of hay constitutes a costuming department and a professional set.
To be honest, with the new emphasis on church drama, I am seeing a lot of second rate acting in the name of God. Nothing can kill what could be an effective drama like someone who stumbles through their lines. We’ve all seen our share of amateur actors with artificial emotions and poor timing on their gestures. If a church is going to use drama, it should be done right. Practice makes perfect.
When I think about the role of preaching, I realize that God has entrusted the incredible story of salvation to amateurs. Of course, there are exceptions like Charles Spurgeon. With the advent of religious television, the polished, edited clergy makes the poor boy with the ill-fitting suit look inadequate. In reality, the emergence of Christian television with the capacity to edit every error, pause and mispronounced word, has given many ministers a complex. After all, it’s a little intimidating to preach to a crowd that’s been listening to Chuck Swindoll, David Jeremiah, Adrian Rogers and Tony Evans all week. The question can easily be asked, “Who am I to stand behind the pulpit in light of the skills of these orators?” While we may know all the right words, when it comes to presenting the truth to our people, we can feel inadequate. The devil has a heyday beating up preachers on Sunday night and Monday morning about their messages and mistakes. Usually on Mondays, ministers are waiting for God to ring down the curtain and close the show due to poor reviews from the pew.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. You may have heard about the saloon that had a sign over the piano. It read, “Don’t shoot the piano player. He is doing the best he can.” God placed his treasure in earthen vessels. One professor calls us, ‘plain, old peanut butter jars.’ He has entrusted flawed people to deliver his message. By a sovereign act of His will, it is our privilege to tell people about God. He didn’t entrust it to angels. He entrusted it to people like you and me.
So, should I quit trying? Absolutely not. As a chosen vessel, I must offer myself as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God. As a minister of the gospel, I should prepare myself as best I can. Anything less is unacceptable. Donald Grey Barnhouse declared, “If I only had three years to serve the Lord, I would spend two of them studying and preparing.” To be a better communicator, I need to study the pros. I should listen to the way they organize their thoughts. I should attend Bible Conferences and sit at the feet of the masters as often as possible. One thing is certain, if I am committed to communicating truth in the clearest way possible, I must never stop learning.
One word of caution at this point. Don’t be like many young actors, trying to copy the style, voice or tone of their mentor/hero. Too many preachers come off as poor imitations of a Billy Graham or some other distinctive preacher. God didn’t call you to be Billy Graham. God called you to be you. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones remarked, “I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God.”
Don’t be a fake or phony. Be who you are, empowered by the Spirit with a word from The Word. You may not have a radio voice. You may have a face that is perfect for radio. The issue is, have I consecrated myself to be the best I can be for the glory of God? Don’t be so professional that your sermons look like a slick performance. Be prepared and then trust the Holy Spirit. Ask God to prepare your heart and to give you a passion for excellence. God has entrusted you with the preaching of the Word. Don’t take it lightly. He knew exactly what He was doing when He called you out for ministry.
Be careful lest you fall for the temptation of being so polished, you miss the message. As James S. Stewart wrote, “It is one thing to learn the technique and mechanics of preaching; it is quite another to preach a sermon which will draw back the veil and make the barriers fall that hide the face of God.”
©2002 MCC Used by permission. This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use. Reproduction for any other purpose is governed by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited.
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.