I don’t preach often these days--at least, not from a pulpit! When I was younger, I found myself on the circuit practically every weekend, often in smaller churches in the Baptist associations where I did collegiate ministry. This was a good way to get to know people and for them to get to know me.
From time to time, I would hear myself preaching and suddenly realize that I was trying to sound like Billy Graham or, later on, John Claypool. Imagine how surprised I was one morning when I found myself channeling Bill Clinton!
As ministers study and practice preaching, they often pick up not only the theology but the style of a homiletic hero. Perhaps we think this provides a sense of authority that we don’t personally feel or we are “giving the people what they want.” As you will agree, there is some danger in either of these approaches.
Talking with a preacher friend recently, we began discussing what keeps us from using our authentic voices. What are the reasons that keep us from being ourselves as preachers?
First, perhaps we are afraid that we will not be seen as relevant. After all, we are creatures of a certain era and we adopt the communication style of the culture in which we live. Most of our people will not sit still for two or three hour sermons like those preached by Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Charles Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, or Billy Sunday. We try to be culturally sensitive and attempt to mimic those who seem to be in touch with contemporary audiences.
Second, it may be that we don’t have a lot of confidence in what we are presenting. We may immerse ourselves so much in commentary studies of others that we neglect to understand what the text is saying to us.
Third, adopting another person’s style may mask our own insecurity not only in the pulpit but in our place of ministry. If we can preach like Bill Hybels, perhaps we can reproduce his leadership in our own church.
Many things mitigate against our listening to the Spirit of God and allowing our own experience, personality, and love to break through. Giving ourselves the freedom to do this takes commitment.
I should add that this imitation of another is not confined to preachers. When lay persons in the church fail to recognize and embrace their own authentic voices and let the minister become their only interpreter of the Christian faith, they fail to accept the calling that God has given to them.