Is Preaching Becoming A Performance?

By Dudley R. Spears

Sometimes when someone is said to be “preaching” one wonders if the “preaching” is to be heard or watched – or both. A number of years ago, this writer sat as a student in the auditorium of David Lipscomb College during a chapel service when a well known preacher and promoter was supposedly preaching on “having fun in the church building.” He said that he liked to have fun and thought it was silly not to have fun, whereupon he jumped as high as he could, clicked his heels and yelped as loud as a Comanche on the warpath. I remember thinking at the time that the right or wrong of the act was covered up completely by the silliness of it.

Preaching is of such nature that the antics of the preacher should not detract from the message. Strutting around and jumping up and down and going through various bodily gyration’ are always detractions. Yes, always! Two brethren y~ere walking away from a meeting house after having heard one of the prancing preachers and one was heard to ask the other, “How’d you like the preaching?” “Well,” drawled the other, “I ain’t right sure – it was a mite too active fur me.” Paul said that he determined not to know a thing among the Corinthians, “save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Hear him as he describes his preaching. “And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Cor. 2:4-5). I suggest that Paul did not demonstrate how well he could prance, strut, jump or click his heels – he just preached.

Sometimes these acrobatic antics betray a weakness on the part of the preacher. He is either weak in knowledge of the scriptures or in his ability to concisely and cogently present an organized lesson. It could be that he is just sort of a “ham” at heart. Whatever it is, it adds no more to the message presented than the antics of the false prophets who did about the same and a little more when confronted by Elijah. Edward J. Young has an interesting comment on what happened.

That the term “to prophesy” had a wide extension of usage, may be seen from the fact that it was applied to the frenzied action of the prophets of Baal upon Mt. Carmel. After describing how these prophets were cutting themselves “after their manner” until they drew blood, the sacred writer continues, “And it came to pass when the noon has passed, that they prophesied until the offering of the minhah (evening sacrifice, DRS)” (I Kings 18:29a). Here it would seem as though the act of prophesying and that of cutting themselves was identical. At any rate there seems to be no doubt that the prophesying here mentioned involved frenzied action. And it is of interest to note that in this instance the word is applied, not to prophets of Jehovah, but to those of Baal (My Servants the Prophets, p. 74).

The “frenzied action” seemed to have been an ingrained part of the false prophet’s mannerism. If there is any correlation at all between the work prophets did in Old Testament times and that which gospel preachers should do now we had best recall that our preaching is not a performance – it is delivering a life and death message, a teaching of the unlearned and the only way to keep the church of the Lord pure.

There are several things one does not need to have in order to preach. Among them is a good collection of jokes, anecdotes and tales. A man does not need to have a good “dance step” in order to get a good lesson across. If he is going to preach, all he needs is some time to study, meditate, pray, memorize and organize what he finds in the word of God and the ability and faith to deliver it. It is downright embarrassing to go hear a man preach who either goes out of his way to be funny, sometimes even vulgar, or who cannot just stand still and preach.

Antics and frolicking in the pulpit may attract some of the giddy and silly who are not thoughtful, but it will not be respected by the sincerely godly folk who want the message of truth stripped of the preachers personality and all that goes with it. When we preach, sometimes we are like the description Mr. Fred B. Craddock gave. We are like the man who hurls javelins into the audience, expecting them to catch them and profit from having caught them. Preaching that is not a performance is a delight to an audience, but a performance is only a delight to those who like to have their ears tickled and be entertained. Let’s all get back to preaching.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 36, pp. 578, 581
September 11, 1980