Performance or Ministry?
There has been discussion over the past years over church services becoming entertaining services: high octane music, flashy sermons, video presentations, etc… I know, we are not one of those types of churches (a flashy sermon from me??). The worship committee tries real hard to integrate good music (praise, hymns, specials, and choir) and preaching into an atmosphere of worship.
However, the fear of every pastor or teacher is what Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I once heard a preacher who solely tempted me to go to church no more!” T.S. Elliot said, “the purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink.” In preaching, we are to turn ink into blood! Many times a preacher speaks only abstractly, devoid of humanness…only words drawn from commentaries and notes without life and blood. This type of preaching can tempt us “to go to church no more.” Then, there are the preachers who deliver a sermon in such a way that all the attention is drawn to him and away from the Word. They may have an eloquent presentation of words that paint beautiful pictures, present wonderful life stories, and give positive points for living, but too often they lack Biblical substance and the Gospel message. This too can tempt people “to go to church no more,” because they are missing an encounter and relationship with God.
Clayton Schmit, professor of Fuller Theological Seminary, made this observation:
Preaching as a performance art places the preach¬er in a tough spot. Performers are often in the lime¬light, admired and appreciated. Effective preachers also find themselves recipients of admiration and gratitude. The temptation to pride can be strong. Perhaps this image will help:
A group of worship¬ers gather in the dark for an evening service around a small table that will bear a candle. The candle will represent the light of Christ. The assembly gathers in darkness and waits for the entrance of the candle. At the appointed time, the candle is brought into the room by a person who moves slowly and gracefully to the table, lest he stirs the air and extinguishes the candle. All eyes are fixed on the entrance. But whom do they see? They see Christ, as represented by the light. He is the focus of their attention and the object of their worship. Is anyone else seen? Yes, the candle bearer. He does not appear to them as the object, but only as a necessary bearer of the object. He will be seen, but only in the afterglow of the light. And what happens if he fails? Suppose he trips over a cord. Whom then do the people see? They see the candle bearer, but they can¬not see Jesus. The light has been snuffed out.
The teacher/preacher’s job is to let the light be seen. He should do everything necessary to bring the light, God’s Word, to God's people. When the teacher/preacher succeeds, the people enjoy an encounter with God. When the teacher/preacher brings light to himself, this usually leaves people devoid of truth and a relationship with God. The light bearer is visible, but should act invisible, not as an object of the people's attention, but simply the bearer of the Light of the Word. Therefore, the teacher/preacher’s job is challenging: on one hand we don’t want to present the Word in such a way that is not dull, boring, or abstract, but on the other hand we don’t want to present the Word with frills and flowery words that have no substance. The teacher/preacher’s job is a delicate balance of communicating the truth in a way that will bring honor to the light, not the light-bearer. Scripture tells us, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news; who announces peace, and brings good news of happiness; who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’" (Isa 52:7)!
-Pastor Mike Kotrla