An interesting question regarding how congregation’s celebrate a sermon came in that I want to address. The writer asked:
Trying to find help. I’m not an emotional person, but I am an emotional preacher. I call it “getting happy.” The problem I find is my congregation doesn’t get emotional or excited with me (though they tell me they like how i preach). How do I let this not get me discouraged, and is there anything i can do to get the people more excited or involved?
This question really resonates with me in that I sometimes feel the urge to push myself harder or do other things when the people do not celebrate the sermon as I normally expect. However, this mindset, I believe, is counterproductive. Let me tell you what I mean.
We must realize that not all people celebrate a sermon the same way. I remember in a Black Preaching Course back at Vanderbilt Divinity School where Dr. Brad Braxton played a sermon that he preached in an Urban Chicago African American Church. He then played a sermon he preached in a Suburban predominantly Caucasian Dallas Texas Church. He noted that when you celebrate in your sermon that the people may react differently. the urban African American Church was vocal. The Texas church demonstrated that they were feeling the message by the smiles on their faces and the body language.
There are white churches that are very vocal and some black churches that are not. And let us not even get into other ethnicities, denominations, and nationalities and the many different ways of expressing concepts such as joy, fear, hope, and love. The key is not to put them down as I see some preachers do. Don’t succumb to the temptation to attempt to change the way other folk express their joy.
The key is not to make them think they must celebrate the sermon in a particular way. The key is that you note some kind of response that demonstrates to you that they are hearing, understanding, and experiencing the truth of the message, if they are, then all is well even if no one is shouting.
To reiterate, a shout is not the point. Jumping is not the point. The point is for the people to hear, understand, and experience the truth. This experiencing the truth will look different depending on the congregation. Over time you will realize how your congregation demonstrates its experiencing of the truth. Go head on and shout…but recognize that for some folks a big broad smile is the way they celebrate the good news as demonstrated in your sermon, and that’s all right.
There comes a time when all practitioners of Black Preaching must take on the pastoral role in the pulpit and preach a word of comfort. Great preaching must have a moment of speaking to the common folk this word of comfort. When we do that, let us engage in great Black Preaching which is often bathed in language that is understandable by common folks. It uses illustrations that most will grasp easily. It has points that can be used in their daily lives. This is true of all great preaching, but especially those who seek to preach Sermons in the Black Preaching Tradition.
Your people come to the church with real problems. There is the one who lost his job. There is the one who is going through a divorce. There is the elderly couple struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. These ones need someone to simply “Make it Plain.”
When one is in the midst of hurt and pain one definitely needs theology. Don’t get me wrong. We need theology! We need doctrine! We need teaching, but it must be “portable” Good News. Preach it so that it can be heard, understood, and packaged together to take with the hearer in her or his daily life.
Martin Luther said:
Cursed be every preacher who aims at lofty topics in the church, looking for his own glory and selfishly desiring to please one individual or another. When I preach here I adapt myself to the circumstances of the common people. I don’t look at the doctors and masters, of whom scarcely forty are present, but at the hundred or the thousand young people and children. It’s to them that I preach, to them that I devote myself, for they too need to understand. If the others don’t want to listen, they can leave….
In the end, if your sermon is worth listening to, it is worth listening to in the language of the people. People come to your church hurting. They don’t need to struggle trying to understand the Word. These hurting people need a plain Word from the Lord that touches their soul and opens the doors of heaven. They need a vision of God working on their behalf in clear terms. They need to be reminded that Jesus “will never leave them nor forsake them.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) They need to see that God is there without any ambiguity.
God bless those that include in their sermonic calendars such plain and clear sermons. God bless those who preach such clear messages with power. Let us pray that we are that kind of preacher who regularly uses black preaching to clearly articulate those kinds of sermons..
I am showing my age, but I can remember a television commercial where an elderly woman looked at a hamburger that was served to her from a fast food joint and asked the then popular question “Where’s The Beef?”
As I listen to much preaching today, I have to ask myself, “Where’s the Beef?” When people go home with tired limbs from exercising, but without a touched heart, I have no question but to ask “Where’s the Beef?” When members go home telling everyone that “The pastor Sho Nuff Preached” and yet can’t even answer what scripture was used or what was the preacher’s main point, I must ask “Where’s The Beef?”
I love Black Preaching, but I am sick to my stomach of preachers using a whoop to hide a lack of solid engagement with the text. I love black preaching, but it makes me cringe in horror as our noble craft is desecrated by the hands of a hack who has obviously not read the text.
And I am very scared that many of our people don’t have any idea that what they are receiving is pablum and not food. Dear preachers, don’t serve junk. Don’t betray your Lord and Your people and Your heritage by using celebration like that.
Another approach to relevance in preaching is to present a “take it or leave it” approach. Here the preacher instead of simply saying the truth is relevant, as in the brute force method, the preacher assumes it is relevant by stating “here is the truth.” In fact relevance is not dealt with. The preacher takes a posture like “Here is the truth, what you do with it is on you.” The preacher often assumes that it is now up to the people. He or she has done the job and now must leave it to the people.
We often hear preachers say things like “God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” OR “God said it, I didn’t!” This kidn of verbiage promotes a kind of preaching that does not allow the truth to touch the ground. The truth need not come to terms with real life. In fact, there is nothing to keep the truths from being irrelevant. Simply put, just becuase “God said it” does not mean that I know how to fulfill what God said or even understand what God said. In short, “God said it” is not enough if we are seeking relevant preaching. When presented so unappetizingly, many when given the choice to “take it or leave it” will simply leave it.
In the last week or so, I have had a couple of conversations regarding the Black Preaching Tradition and using it to improve sermonic construction, delivery, and reception. One Black Preacher, when he found out that I was the primary contributor to SoulPreaching.Com, told me that he was seeking to implement elements of the tradition. He then began to talk about some of the media preachers. This preacher even called one of these media preachers a genius in Black Preaching. I asked him what was so appealing about the preacher. He then talked mostly about stylistic concerns.
My preacher friend fell into the trap of thinking that the Black Preaching Tradition is only about style. He wanted to “preach black” and thus he attempted to incorporate the style of the popular preacher. Certainly there is nothing wrong with learning from others, but we must not fall into the trap of thinking that this is all there is to the tradition. Certainly there are stylistic concerns. But there is also the tendency of the Black Preacher to address certain themes. The tendency to look from the angle of the underdog and those who live “with their back against the wall.” There is a tendency, in Black Preaching, to see the practical rather than a theoretical angle. There is a tendency, in sermons according to the tradition, to see God on the side of humanity in real ways. These concerns, and many other important ones, were lost on this preacher as he was attempting to just emulate the style, a style that can be used to preach anything, including things antithetical to the Gospel as well as what God has traditionally used the African American Preacher to preach.
In the seminar that I just presented, we talked about the Black Preaching Tradition in terms of Style, Sermonic Structure, Bible Interpretive Approach, and Common Folk Theology. These dimensions are all aspects of the tradition. To diminish or ignore one is to not address the full counsel. Someone may shout. Someone may whoop, but that don’t make them stand in the line of the great tradition that gave us birth. Let’s be true to the whole tradition and not abuse it for a “cheap shout.”