Preaching


Recently I counseled someone who had become rather melancholy about church, worship, and just the whole image of modern day ministry. The smorgasbord of appeals being made from an array of sources makes choosing a church (even Christ) very difficult, and has caused some to be discouraged to the point of disinterest.

The Bible says such a period would emerge. Paul told his colleague and friend there would come a time when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim 4:3), and even said some would eventually abandon the faith (1 Tim 4:1). With the deluge of preachers and self-proclaimed prophets afoot in cyberspace and the world today, it is becoming more and more difficult to know exactly what and who to believe. A lot of stuff out there may sound good, but so much is neither good nor sound.

Is there an actual litmus test for determining legitimacy in ministry? How can one know what and who to believe? Or even know who is real? Our Lord said clearly without regard for personality, charisma, gifts, degrees, apparent success, and the like, there is one sure tell sign. He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35, NIV) Succinctly, amidst all the hype and pseudo-energy that characterizes a lot of contemporary preaching, the love of God must and will be unmistakably clear to help confirm if a message and messenger is truly real. The power of God’s love is still able to woo sinners unto repentance if we would simply trust Him.

Remember our childhood days? While we could hardly afford a bicycle, most kids were enamored by the speed and sound a motor cycle made. Too dangerous and expensive for most of us, we remained content to ride our bikes, but would make an inexpensive modification to its operation to enhance our experience. We would simply take a playing card (any card) from a deck of cards, and a clothes pin from where mom would hang the laundry, and clip the card onto the frame of the bike so it would flap against the spokes. Remarkably, it created for us a noise that gave the sense we were riding a motorized cycle. There was only one problem. While it made a lot of noise, it actually had no power.

Chew on that, my brothers and sisters. Please don’t be guilty of the same. Be encouraged!

A few weeks ago I was on my way out to grab a bite to eat when my phone rang. A friend was on his way to see the Hawks play the Celtics in Atlanta. We chatted for a moment as he drove to the dome. The conversation soon ended and we continued with our individual agendas. After my meal, I looked up and noticed the game was underway on the big screen in their lounge. Not very interested in the game, I began looking for my friend in the arena crowd of several thousand. An almost impossible task, I decided to send him a text message and ask him where he was seated and what was he wearing. He responded and noted he (his daughter, too) was near half court to the right of the scorer’s table, and his back would be toward the TV cameras. With relentless passion, I tried to identify my friend in the camouflage of the crowd. It was a tough assignment.

At last, I had a rather witty idea. I sent him a message and asked him to do me a favor. The next time the ball turned over—whether a missed shot or a basket—as the players return up the court, I asked him to quickly stand up so I could see where he was seated. Almost immediately, the ball turned over and the players were hurrying to the other end of the court. The television cameras panned the entire court and captured the teams in full stride to assume their positions. In a moment, the silhouette of a man unobtrusively rose and just as discreetly sat back down. There was no mistake about it. It was my friend. We confirmed it via text. I laughed so hard people were wondering what was wrong with me!

As Christians in the crowded arena of life, it is often tough for some to distinguish us from others who are in the world. Whether through a sermon or a sunrise, I believe God is routinely sending us messages to help make our presence known and felt by others. If sinful me could successfully persuade my friend over a thousand miles away to get up out of his seat so he could be recognized, surely a loving God ought to be able to get us to do the same.

The point is clear. God wants his people to stand up and be a witness! And if you’ll stand up, you’ll stand out; and as you stand out (for Him), it means you’re standing FOR Him; and if you’ll stand FOR Him, He’ll stand with you! Won’t He do it?

While flying home recently from a conference, I sat in the first row (on the aisle) and talked with a lady who sat in the middle seat next to me.  As we dialogued, I asked her what she did for a living.  She told me she was a therapist, a professor, and a producer.  My curiosity was peaked.  I probed further into her diverse disciplines for clarity.  She told me about an online course she facilitated on digital imaging technology teaching students how to create visually interactive presentations on the internet.  She also mentioned how this related to her actually being in the production industry which routinely utilizes this kind of technology.  We then got to her capacity as a therapist.  About this subject, she was most evasive.  She hemmed-and-hawed about the various kinds of intervention she would normally engage.  Most of it was abuse related.  Around 15 minutes into our flight she eventually told me it was faith-based.  With no need to reveal my capacity as a minister, I pushed-the-envelope further; until at last she told me her therapy was a part of a Christian counseling ministry.  I could not help but ask why it took her so long to admit she was Christian.  Her response was classic.  She said she had to be careful to avoid inserting her faith as a therapist because of the strict guidelines related to her work.  Of course, I was not her client, and we were certainly not in her office; but I thanked her for the exchange and before long we each closed our eyes and endured the remainder of our flight.

A major shift has transpired in Christendom over the past two-thousand years, but more especially in the last thirty or so beyond doubt.  Though visibly persecuted, the early church boldly and fearlessly proclaimed its message and courageously sought to change the culture.  Today, the tables have significantly turned.  Alcoholics unashamedly own their habits and are commonly seen drunk in our cities.  Prostitutes and pushers have commandeered control of our street corners, and will intimidate people if they simply look at them wrong or say a thing about it.  The gay agenda is being brandished like a gun before the world, and they arrogantly dare anyone to challenge them.  At a local hospital in a surgery waiting room recently, I asked an admittedly gay man how old he was.  He comically (and publicly) replied, “Reverend, you never ask a woman her age.”  Even on television, networks present dubious products that may or may not work; and they do so without fear or a need for qualifiers.  Yet, when a Christian worship is aired, an urgent disclaimer precludes the program saying something like this:  “The program you are about to watch is a paid advertisement.  The views expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of this station or its management.”  It seems every other genre has loudly and intrepidly emerged on the scene, while the church is held hostage and forced into quiet ambivalence.

This trend cannot continue if the church is to succeed.  James Gustafson saw the church as “the moral decision-maker” in the world.  He is right!  We have been commissioned to confront evil, and to be the voice of reason and righteousness before a sinful world.  When others cannot, it is our job to speak truth to power, to unashamedly proclaim the good news, and also the corresponding consequences of judgment and damnation for those who reject it.  In case you didn’t know it (or maybe just hadn’t thought about it lately), He is coming back!  And we should be careful to occupy (stay busy) until He comes.

If you need a text, Acts 4:31 portrays the church operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, and boldly proclaiming the genuine word of God.  No choir sang, no gifted psalmist was flown in to “minister;” no special musician mounted the instrument, and no celebrity preacher took the podium.  They ALL simply prayed, the place rocked, the Spirit overtook them, and they openly shared the gospel together.

It’s time for the church to come-out-of-the closet.  Own your faith and lovingly share it with others.

One of these days we may learn we cannot successfully do battle with the media. Taking on these powerful giants is like going to Yellowstone National or some other wildlife reserve, and finding a grizzly bear, walking up to it, putting your hands around its throat and saying, “I’ll show you I’m not afraid of you.” It just ain’t happening! This is a terrible miscalculation many make when they find themselves squarely in the scope of these habitual “mess mongers.” It is a lure—a trap, for sure—one should only cautiously engage.

I have come to discover some interesting things about those who research and report news over the years. Beyond the obvious monopoly held on cameras, microphones, and networks, too, a crucial advantage held is the privilege of rehearsed questions. Check it out! Most reporters ask planned, well thought out questions to which they prefer spontaneous responses. This is the key to creating newsworthy copy. Eventually, their goal becomes explicitly clear. Often there is less concern about intelligent explanation, than there is for timely exploitation. If these skilled marksmen (and women) can successfully seduce one into an “innocent” dialogue about debatable issues, soon you might discover your comments snipped and clipped to the extent you don’t even recognize them. One verbal miscue or one oral blunder can instantly catapult you to the center of a newsworthy controversy that could takes weeks, months, even years from which to recover. I am not suggesting this is the case with all of them, but a great number work from this perspective.

Notice over the past twenty or thirty years how talk show hosts are decidedly inching their queries into the clinical realm. Seemingly harmless questions are strategically designed to extract emotions from interviewees or guests. Where is it written if I don’t become emotional or cry in front of a camera that it means I am heartless or uncaring? No where! The emotions related to my pain are not for exploitation for another’s personal agenda. As a matter of fact, I prefer my own quiet sanctuary when I grieve. Initially, I try and seek out a private retreat where I can get in touch with my emotions and my God without being interrogated, manipulated, or subjugated by someone who does not know me, does not understand, and quite possibly does not genuinely care. I feel strongly this is risky territory, and especially for the untrained—those who lack qualification and certification in the behavioral science community.

Of course, opportunity may present itself to respond tactfully and tastefully to community incidents and other relevant issues; but there is nothing wrong with modestly saying (at times), “You know, I’m unsure; I need to pray about that first!” What’s wrong with that? Since you don’t control the camera, the mike, nor own any stations, you should always be extremely judicious with your unscripted commentary. Battling the media is an inequitable and extremely imbalanced game. They—those who do it professionally—have a marked advantage; and most times, you—the ignorant victim—are going to be on the losing end.

Don’t be distracted by the perceived attraction of seeing yourself on television. Choose wisely your venue. Require (as much as you can) details of their intent, and thorough accountability as well (even in writing). Remember, when you can’t control others and other things around you, always be sure to be in control of you! Whatever else you are as a Christian or a minister, you should never be a delusional martyr! It would be a fatal distraction.

An unfortunate event just occurred—and I do mean only moments ago—via a nationally televised press conference from Winston Salem, North Carolina. On the eve of the state’s long awaited opportunity to endorse its candidate for representing the Democratic party in the November presidential race, unambiguous outrage and sadness are expressed over the so-dubbed “performance” and comments of the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois. Senator Barack Obama’s final-straw-decision stems from the minister’s “caricatured” presentation (as some call it) at the National Press Club in Washington D. C. on Monday, April 28, 2008. The political fallout related to this development is yet to be calculated.

Critics and sympathizers on both sides of the debate are offering much commentary about the difficult position Senator Obama was in (as well as the pointless means by which he was placed there). Many sympathizers favor Dr. Wright in light of the unfair portrayals of him and his sermons that have captured center stage for months now. Is the pastor a victim or is he a volunteer? Whether or not he should have played-into-the-media’s-hands to try and clean-up his image depends on which side you’re on. A few suggest he wasn’t actually “thrown into the lions den; he walked in on his own accord” (speaking of his decision to engage this media tour and to finally speak out since the sermon clips began). The jury is still out on this one.

We do know this: A pastor’s arguable comments and actions have been highly scrutinized; his facial expressions thoroughly analyzed, his judgment sorely criticized, and all of it has caused a time-honored relationship to become sadly polarized at the worst time ever for such. It has yet to be determined if the motivation behind this appearance (at the Press Club) was personal, political, financial, egotistical, or just plain maniacal. God alone knows.

My take on all of it is clear (and I’m working hard to re-learn this lesson everyday). We—ministers—do not have to respond publicly to everything others say about us; especially when what they say is not true. Stay in control when others are aiming at you; and keep listening to the Voice of the Holy Spirit for clarity and direction. If you don’t, you just may confirm the claims of your critics, and possibly jeopardize your sacred covering. The Mosaic tradition reminds us, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1; NKJV)). A huge part of that covering is the unambiguous love and support of God’s people.

I have watched and listened with extreme diligence throughout these developments and only wish to reiterate something I said in my blog submission on Wednesday, December 9, 2007. Here it is: The best kind of power and the most effective energy is power under control.” Today, more than ever before, I am convinced there is no power like power under control.”

The current conversation regarding the pulpit comments of preachers of varying persuasions inspires this composition. It will probably extend the discussion. I understand it, and welcome any thought-provoking exchange.

Indisputably, the debate on politics and religion (and more especially, preaching) will not likely end after the 2008 election is complete. The church has been at the forefront of just about every major revolution that sought to bring about positive change in our world. The discussion is nothing new. In fact, the Founder and foremost of Christian preachers was actually executed for political insurrection. Jesus frequently took the religious and political powers to task in order to affect equity and fair standards for all humans. Ministers of the Gospel have been widely respected, traditionally tolerated, often misquoted, and yet have enjoyed a kind of oratorical privilege (liberty) without any major (pronounced) ill feeling. Amazingly, our current presidential election has begun to raise questions regarding this custom. Preachers and clips of their sermons are being analyzed and scrutinized by many with clearly political overtones.

In Curtis Hanson’s exciting movie, “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle,” there is a classic line (in gist) regarding the power of those who (like the demented nanny in the film) nurse and give daily care to children. The line says simply, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” I have aptly modified this line for this article and prefer to suggest, “The hand that holds the ‘mike—microphone—and the camera’ rules the world.” Only recently has technology afforded the public an equal opportunity to significantly challenge the media’s unfair biases in reporting. YouTube® and My Space® postings represent the wave of the future. Personal blog platforms are now considered by some as actual editorial venues. In fact, that’s all my blog is—a personally controlled commentary where I can write about whatever I wish without challenge. The Editor of a foremost journal in one of our nation’s major cities admitted to me these developments are forcing the industry to “re-think its role” in light of the former monopoly it held on similar columns and commentaries. Perhaps a new breed is trying to “rule the world.” No doubt we’ll see.

In our preaching series through the New Testament book of Ephesians, we most certainly encountered Chapter 6, verses 5 through 9, where the Apostle stated bluntly, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect…” (Verse 5, NIV). While historically, some have advantageously used these words to keep others in submission and under control, we would be hard pressed to discover any modern believers who feel the writer means the same for our contemporary world. He would dare condemn America for correcting the error of our founding fathers when they freed enslaved and often mistreated black people. To assert anything different would sadly de-contextualize Paul’s admonition to this young church. In our studies, we found the image of slavery which Paul referenced was far different from the brutal system our ancestors endured in this country. A proper analysis meant we had to understand the first-century milieu, the Ephesian culture where this letter was sent, and do some necessary word studies and related research to fully comprehend these unmistakably offensive words. Likewise, without an equally proper analysis of the entire context within which any sermonic utterance is expressed, would be grossly unfair to malevolently publish, and to further misrepresent as simply inflammatory. Whenever this kind of de-contextualization is done, someone (whoever that may be) is being equally inflammatory, and most likely has a personal or political agenda. Watch them!

Articles and editorials are being published and produced by commentators and clerics about the audacity of preachers and the present political quagmire. Ministers of the Gospel represent a sacred oral tradition. Our role is both priestly and prophetic. As priests we speak to God for the people, and as prophets we also speak to the people for God. To function in both capacities requires a heightened sensitivity to the ways, the will, and the Word of God. Without such, our utterances are aimless and without divine authority. Noticeably, some in the media are trying to clean-up the mess made after bomb-shell-like clips of Reverend Jeremiah Wright were de-contextualized. We now know, at least in one instance, Dr. Wright was actually quoting Edward Peck, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and deputy director of President Reagan’s terrorism task force, who was speaking on FOX News. Even with these developments, we also know the damage has been done, and the ends sought by those who strategically sliced these snippets from the sermon have already been reached. A darker shadow of doubt has been skillfully cast on the veracity of a man who aspires to be president. There is no way to unring this bell; there is no way to “unscramble this egg” and put it back into the shell.

There is another concern here that merits our attention. This entire event is yet a huge wake-up-call to all who preach about the brazen tactics of the “enemy” to render us as incredible and ineffective witnesses for our Lord. As free moral agents, it behooves us to take very seriously our assignments as Gospel preachers. Ours is a privilege the world has yet to fully understand and in many instances does not appreciate. We should be extremely judicious with both our message and the methods we employ when exercising our gifts. If not, the good we seek might very well be “evil spoken of…” (See Romans 14:16). My hope is to encourage neophytes in this holy calling and any current aspirants who sense God is leading them to engage this often-criticized vocation. Perhaps the seasoned pastor or preacher who (like me) regularly agonizes over this peculiar work may receive comfort and conviction herein as well. For each, there are some valuable lessons we can extract from this absurd episode:

1. Make every effort to accurately represent and report the truth. One nationally recognized preacher declared the Katrina crisis—the 2005 hurricane disaster—as the consequence of New Orleans’ horrendous sin which provoked God to the resulting extent. Rational thinkers know this is untrue. This doesn’t even sound like the God we know. If so, how do you explain other catastrophes, and the enormous growth and success of gambling venues like Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and others? Another minister pronounced the tragedy in New York—the 911 attack—as poetic justice for the apparent evils of America. Neither of these can be adequately (nor accurately) explained as the justice of God. My humble admonition to all is work hard to be accurate (as much as is humanly possible) when proclaiming the gospel message. The alarming conjectures captioned above are purely (and sadly) prophetic speculations. Quite honestly, I am ashamed to even label them as prophetic. In any case, these certainly do not qualify as the Gospel!

2. Be careful to reflect the heart and love of God. While the ends of the Gospel are at times conflicting, it is still supposed to be Good News. Often the Gospel will comfort, but many times it will convict. It is the responsibility of every preacher to ensure his or her own opinions about local and world affairs do not overshadow the greater matter of God’s great love for all humankind; and furthermore, that God’s desire is for all to live faithfully as children of the same loving God; and with each other in peace. Appropriate anger is clearly not prohibited; but we are admonished to avoid sinning whenever righteous anger is expressed.

3. Make sure you explain what God has said, rather than what you “perceive” God is saying. This distinction has confused many a person in the pew. Several modern-day prognosticators are wielding their professed (and often suspected) discernments as the Word of God. This may seem as splitting-theological-hairs to some, but one’s highly-spiritualized opinion does not qualify as the Word of God. Our task is to accurately analyze the biblical text, and relate those insights to hearers to afford them a reasonably fair opportunity to discover what God is saying to them (and without asserting one’s own personal desires). When such abuses are carried out, they usually are done to accomplish ones convenient and self-serving ends. To be sure, God yet does speak; and today. The point here, brothers and sisters, is to correctly preach what our faith declares is the indisputable, incontrovertible, historically recognized Word of God!

4. Be authentic in your proclamation! Critical to a believable sermon is an authentic and honest presentation. How a sermon is delivered is important. Preachers are at best conduits through which God works to accomplish His will in the lives of others. We are not performers; we are presenters. Sermons are divinely-inspired offerings to the world. To engage in questionable antics for solely evoking an emotional response from hearers is abominable. To display uncontrollable anger (or excessive humor for that matter) could derail the sermon and usurp the ministry of the Holy Spirit Who could be working on someone in need. If ever the message leaves your audience with a greater view of you (rather than the God Who sent you); the sermon was tragically vain and hopeless. Sermons are less about the preacher and more about the Person and Power of God. Don’t get in the way!

5. Pray for those in authority giving leadership to our country! There is a difference between talking to those in authority and talking about them. Preachers, especially, should exercise extreme caution when criticizing others in leadership. Even if you don’t agree with them, you should wisely pray for them. Than to exclusively ridicule them, you might seek to reason with them. There are legitimate avenues for this to be done. Don’t marginalize the sermon with extended tirades and tantrums about what those in leadership are or are not doing. Tell God about it; and encourage your hearers to do the same. God may very well create a platform for you to responsibly engage leadership toward a positive and productive end.

There are doubtless other issues that could be addressed about this enduring saga. My burden is to raise a few simple concerns which I feel may be lost in the smoke. Be faithful as you serve our Lord with gladness. In the final analysis, all any of us should ultimately want is to hear God say, “Servant, Well done!” That’s all that really matters!

Please continue to pray for this servant!

One of the best episodes of the television sitcom The Cosby’s presents to Cliff and Clair an extraordinary challenge when Vanessa comes home after only one semester of school, and announces in a rather innocuous fashion she is now engaged. Her fiancé, Mr. Dabnis Brickey, is eleven years her senior and the head of maintenance at the university where Vanessa is a student. The dynamics of this familiar family dilemma provide much drama and humor for viewers as the tension mounted at each segment. Later on at dinner, Cliff attempted to convey to Dabnis the simple problem with this entire development, and to further reassure him that their dislike for him was nothing personal. His illustration to convey his point is nothing short of genius. Cliff asks Dabnis to name his favorite food dish. He mentions a hearty steak. Cliff, then, portrayed the preparation of a premium porterhouse in exquisite detail. Seasoned and grilled to Dabnis’ delight, Cliff asked him to imagine a waiter taking this expertly prepared steak garnished with onions and potatoes, and placing it squarely on an upside-down lid of a garbage can. The scene is classic as Dabnis’ countenance changed and the other family members’ faces frowned (even my own). He finally articulated his point to this confused suitor. Cliff tells him there is nothing wrong with the steak; it’s all in the presentation.

An interesting trend is emerging in the discipline of preaching today. The face of this sacred craft is drastically changing. In some circles there seems to be a major shift from the historical (more traditional) approach to this hallowed assignment. It is such a drastic and dangerous shift I’m not so sure we are fully aware of the problem being created nor the sad consequences which might result. Clearly the emphasis (and to a large degree the interest) is changing from the original intent that a huge appetite is being created for this new age style of delivering the gospel message. Hundreds and thousands of seekers are regularly gravitating to commonly dubbed spiritual forums (like major sporting events) where often the practices of some who preach lean more toward theatrics and entertainment than traditional preaching. This raises an interesting question that needs to be settled quickly—Is preaching a recreational activity or is it supposed to be procreational? At some point there needs to be a clear distinction made, and a clear line drawn across which truly sincere proclaimers should never go.

Let me define or explain what I mean when using the descriptions recreational vs. procreational preaching. Recreational preaching is typically an exaggerated or animated sermonic presentation that routinely is absent of an expressed (articulated) behavioral goal. Generally the message is enthusiastically expressed, and is most times an emotionally-charged oration that is plainly preacher-centered—leaving hearers with a good impression of the minister and his or her given endowments. Its objectives seem to lean more to entertain and emotionalize rather than to equip or mobilize the pew. Procreational preaching (as I label it) aims to be a distinctly sacred presentation of the gospel and is expressly God-centered. It ultimately aims to mobilize the pew to a more responsible and productive practice of living beyond the sermonic moment and the worship experience. While these may be characterized by responsible energy and some tasteful expression of emotion, it intends to leave hearers with a heightened sense of God rather than who happened to be the presenter.

Customarily, preaching has always been regarded as a distinctly sacred engagement. Poise and dignity accompanied the discourse and proposed to allow listeners a reasonable opportunity to experience God, to appropriately see themselves and to pensively consider what God may be saying to them in order to effect change. To the contrary, much of contemporary preaching may or may not include an encounter with God, and will often leave listeners thinking more about the messenger more so than the message. Consequently, the conversation in quite a few circles after participating in these super-charged preaching events is more about “the way” a sermon was delivered rather than what was actually delivered (what God said). Public speaking is a keen discipline and the art of preaching is no less a discipline. While it will no doubt motivate its audience, it is to be engaged quite differently from a motivational speech. Even though at times there may be hints of rhythm and perhaps some rhyme, it is significantly different from rap or some stand-up comedy. These familiar oral presentations are very much recognized as performances. Preaching, on the other hand, is supposed to be a distinctly redemptive or transformational oration (an offering) intended to cause a recognizable behavioral change in the lives of hearers. If the messenger is less than serious or is in any way perceived to be pretentious or insincere, then likely the message and the messenger will be hardly received and largely not believed.

Aesop relates a fable of the shepherd-boy who watched a flock of sheep near a village, and brought out the villagers three or four times by repeatedly crying out, “Wolf!” When the townsmen would come to his aid, he laughed at them for their trouble. To him it was all a big joke. As fate would have it, the wolf did truly come at last. As he had done previously the shepherd-boy shouted the crucial alarm in fear of the impending danger: “Pray, do come and help me; the wolf is killing the sheep!” No one paid him any mind nor rendered any assistance. The wolf made sport of the flock and the boy was devastated over his loss. The moral is clear: “There is no believing a liar even when he speaks the truth.”

Dr. Reginald D. Terry is pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He is a published author of the book, Associates In Ministry, a text which encourages the relationship between the pastor and the associate ministers of the church. His doctoral thesis explores and offers an excellent curriculum for nurturing persons who aspire to enter into vocational Christian ministry.

The current conversation regarding the pulpit comments of preachers of varying persuasions inspires this composition. It will probably extend the discussion. I understand it, and welcome any thought-provoking exchange.

Indisputably, the debate on politics and religion (and more especially, preaching) will not likely end after the 2008 election is complete. The church has been at the forefront of just about every major revolution that sought to bring about positive change in our world. The discussion is nothing new. In fact, the Founder and foremost of Christian preachers was actually executed for political insurrection. Jesus frequently took the religious and political powers to task in order to affect equity and fair standards for all humans. Ministers of the Gospel have been widely respected, traditionally tolerated, often misquoted, and yet have enjoyed a kind of oratorical privilege (liberty) without any major (pronounced) ill feeling. Amazingly, our current presidential election has begun to raise questions regarding this custom. Preachers and clips of their sermons are being analyzed and scrutinized by many with clearly political overtones.

In Curtis Hanson’s exciting movie, “The Hand That Rocks The Cradle,” there is a classic line (in gist) regarding the power of those who (like the demented nanny in the film) nurse and give daily care to children. The line says simply, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” I have aptly modified this line for this article and prefer to suggest, “The hand that holds the ‘mike—microphone—and the camera’ rules the world.” Only recently has technology afforded the public an equal opportunity to significantly challenge the media’s unfair biases in reporting. YouTube® and My Space® postings represent the wave of the future. Personal blog platforms are now considered by some as actual editorial venues. In fact, that’s all my blog is—a personally controlled commentary where I can write about whatever I wish without challenge. The Editor of a foremost journal in one of our nation’s major cities admitted to me these developments are forcing the industry to “re-think its role” in light of the former monopoly it held on similar columns and commentaries. Perhaps a new breed is trying to “rule the world.” No doubt we’ll see.

In our preaching series through the New Testament book of Ephesians, we most certainly encountered Chapter 6, verses 5 through 9, where the Apostle stated bluntly, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect…” (Verse 5, NIV). While historically, some have advantageously used these words to keep others in submission and under control, we would be hard pressed to discover any modern believers who feel the writer means the same for our contemporary world. He would dare condemn America for correcting the error of our founding fathers when they freed enslaved and often mistreated black people. To assert anything different would sadly de-contextualize Paul’s admonition to this young church. In our studies, we found the image of slavery which Paul referenced was far different from the brutal system our ancestors endured in this country. A proper analysis meant we had to understand the first-century milieu, the Ephesian culture where this letter was sent, and do some necessary word studies and related research to fully comprehend these unmistakably offensive words. Likewise, without an equally proper analysis of the entire context within which any sermonic utterance is expressed, would be grossly unfair to malevolently publish, and to further misrepresent as simply inflammatory. Whenever this kind of de-contextualization is done, someone (whoever that may be) is being equally inflammatory, and most likely has a personal or political agenda. Watch them!

Articles and editorials are being published and produced by commentators and clerics about the audacity of preachers and the present political quagmire. Ministers of the Gospel represent a sacred oral tradition. Our role is both priestly and prophetic. As priests we speak to God for the people, and as prophets we also speak to the people for God. To function in both capacities requires a heightened sensitivity to the ways, the will, and the Word of God. Without such, our utterances are aimless and without divine authority. Noticeably, some in the media are trying to clean-up the mess made after bomb-shell-like clips of Reverend Jeremiah Wright were de-contextualized. We now know, at least in one instance, Dr. Wright was actually quoting Edward Peck, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and deputy director of President Reagan’s terrorism task force, who was speaking on FOX News. Even with these developments, we also know the damage has been done, and the ends sought by those who strategically sliced these snippets from the sermon have already been reached. A darker shadow of doubt has been skillfully cast on the veracity of a man who aspires to be president. There is no way to unring this bell; there is no way to “unscramble this egg” and put it back into the shell.

There is another concern here that merits our attention. This entire event is yet a huge wake-up-call to all who preach about the brazen tactics of the “enemy” to render us as incredible and ineffective witnesses for our Lord. As free moral agents, it behooves us to take very seriously our assignments as Gospel preachers. Ours is a privilege the world has yet to fully understand and in many instances does not appreciate. We should be extremely judicious with both our message and the methods we employ when exercising our gifts. If not, the good we seek might very well be “evil spoken of…” (See Romans 14:16). My hope is to encourage neophytes in this holy calling and any current aspirants who sense God is leading them to engage this often-criticized vocation. Perhaps the seasoned pastor or preacher who (like me) regularly agonizes over this peculiar work may receive comfort and conviction herein as well. For each, there are some valuable lessons we can extract from this absurd episode:

1. Make every effort to accurately represent and report the truth. One nationally recognized preacher declared the Katrina crisis—the 2005 hurricane disaster—as the consequence of New Orleans’ horrendous sin which provoked God to the resulting extent. Rational thinkers know this is untrue. This doesn’t even sound like the God we know. If so, how do you explain other catastrophes, and the enormous growth and success of gambling venues like Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and others? Another minister pronounced the tragedy in New York—the 911 attack—as poetic justice for the apparent evils of America. Neither of these can be adequately (nor accurately) explained as the justice of God. My humble admonition to all is work hard to be accurate (as much as is humanly possible) when proclaiming the gospel message. The alarming conjectures captioned above are purely (and sadly) prophetic speculations. Quite honestly, I am ashamed to even label them as prophetic. In any case, these certainly do not qualify as the Gospel!

2. Be careful to reflect the heart and love of God. While the ends of the Gospel are at times conflicting, it is still supposed to be Good News. Often the Gospel will comfort, but many times it will convict. It is the responsibility of every preacher to ensure his or her own opinions about local and world affairs do not overshadow the greater matter of God’s great love for all humankind; and furthermore, that God’s desire is for all to live faithfully as children of the same loving God; and with each other in peace. Appropriate anger is clearly not prohibited; but we are admonished to avoid sinning whenever righteous anger is expressed.

3. Make sure you explain what God has said, rather than what you “perceive” God is saying. This distinction has confused many a person in the pew. Several modern-day prognosticators are wielding their professed (and often suspected) discernments as the Word of God. This may seem as splitting-theological-hairs to some, but one’s highly-spiritualized opinion does not qualify as the Word of God. Our task is to accurately analyze the biblical text, and relate those insights to hearers to afford them a reasonably fair opportunity to discover what God is saying to them (and without asserting one’s own personal desires). When such abuses are carried out, they usually are done to accomplish ones convenient and self-serving ends. To be sure, God yet does speak; and today. The point here, brothers and sisters, is to correctly preach what our faith declares is the indisputable, incontrovertible, historically recognized Word of God!

4. Be authentic in your proclamation! Critical to a believable sermon is an authentic and honest presentation. How a sermon is delivered is important. Preachers are at best conduits through which God works to accomplish His will in the lives of others. We are not performers; we are presenters. Sermons are divinely-inspired offerings to the world. To engage in questionable antics for solely evoking an emotional response from hearers is abominable. To display uncontrollable anger (or excessive humor for that matter) could derail the sermon and usurp the ministry of the Holy Spirit Who could be working on someone in need. If ever the message leaves your audience with a greater view of you (rather than the God Who sent you); the sermon was tragically vain and hopeless. Sermons are less about the preacher and more about the Person and Power of God. Don’t get in the way!

5. Pray for those in authority giving leadership to our country! There is a difference between talking to those in authority and talking about them. Preachers, especially, should exercise extreme caution when criticizing others in leadership. Even if you don’t agree with them, you should wisely pray for them. Than to exclusively ridicule them, you might seek to reason with them. There are legitimate avenues for this to be done. Don’t marginalize the sermon with extended tirades and tantrums about what those in leadership are or are not doing. Tell God about it; and encourage your hearers to do the same. God may very well create a platform for you to responsibly engage leadership toward a positive and productive end.

There are doubtless other issues that could be addressed about this enduring saga. My burden is to raise a few simple concerns which I feel may be lost in the smoke. Be faithful as you serve our Lord with gladness. In the final analysis, all any of us should ultimately want is to hear God say, “Servant, Well done!” That’s all that really matters!

Please continue to pray for this servant!

Dr. Reginald D. Terry is pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska. For contact or copies of his book, Associates In Ministry, you may call 402-554-1080, or email Rdterryfic@aol.com.

One of the best episodes of the television sitcom The Cosby’s presents to Cliff and Clair an extraordinary challenge when Vanessa comes home after only one semester of school, and announces in a rather innocuous fashion she is now engaged. Her fiancé, Mr. Dabnis Brickey, is eleven years her senior and the head of maintenance at the university where Vanessa is a student. The dynamics of this familiar family dilemma provide much drama and humor for viewers as the tension mounted at each segment. Later on at dinner, Cliff attempted to convey to Dabnis the simple problem with this entire development, and to further reassure him that their dislike for him was nothing personal. His illustration to convey his point is nothing short of genius. Cliff asks Dabnis to name his favorite food dish. He mentions a hearty steak. Cliff, then, portrayed the preparation of a premium porterhouse in exquisite detail. Seasoned and grilled to Dabnis’ delight, Cliff asked him to imagine a waiter taking this expertly prepared steak garnished with onions and potatoes, and placing it squarely on an upside-down lid of a garbage can. The scene is classic as Dabnis’ countenance changed and the other family members’ faces frowned (even my own). He finally articulated his point to this confused suitor. Cliff tells him there is nothing wrong with the steak; it’s all in the presentation.

An interesting trend is emerging in the discipline of preaching today. The face of this sacred craft is drastically changing. In some circles there seems to be a major shift from the historical (more traditional) approach to this hallowed assignment. It is such a drastic and dangerous shift I’m not so sure we are fully aware of the problem being created nor the sad consequences which might result. Clearly the emphasis (and to a large degree the interest) is changing from the original intent that a huge appetite is being created for this new age style of delivering the gospel message. Hundreds and thousands of seekers are regularly gravitating to commonly dubbed spiritual forums (like major sporting events) where often the practices of some who preach lean more toward theatrics and entertainment than traditional preaching. This raises an interesting question that needs to be settled quickly—Is preaching a recreational activity or is it supposed to be procreational? At some point there needs to be a clear distinction made, and a clear line drawn across which truly sincere proclaimers should never go.

Let me define or explain what I mean when using the descriptions recreational vs. procreational preaching. Recreational preaching is typically an exaggerated or animated sermonic presentation that routinely is absent of an expressed (articulated) behavioral goal. Generally the message is enthusiastically expressed, and is most times an emotionally-charged oration that is plainly preacher-centered—leaving hearers with a good impression of the minister and his or her given endowments. Its objectives seem to lean more to entertain and emotionalize rather than to equip or mobilize the pew. Procreational preaching (as I label it) aims to be a distinctly sacred presentation of the gospel and is expressly God-centered. It ultimately aims to mobilize the pew to a more responsible and productive practice of living beyond the sermonic moment and the worship experience. While these may be characterized by responsible energy and some tasteful expression of emotion, it intends to leave hearers with a heightened sense of God rather than who happened to be the presenter.

Customarily, preaching has always been regarded as a distinctly sacred engagement. Poise and dignity accompanied the discourse and proposed to allow listeners a reasonable opportunity to experience God, to appropriately see themselves and to pensively consider what God may be saying to them in order to effect change. To the contrary, much of contemporary preaching may or may not include an encounter with God, and will often leave listeners thinking more about the messenger more so than the message. Consequently, the conversation in quite a few circles after participating in these super-charged preaching events is more about “the way” a sermon was delivered rather than what was actually delivered (what God said). Public speaking is a keen discipline and the art of preaching is no less a discipline. While it will no doubt motivate its audience, it is to be engaged quite differently from a motivational speech. Even though at times there may be hints of rhythm and perhaps some rhyme, it is significantly different from rap or some stand-up comedy. These familiar oral presentations are very much recognized as performances. Preaching, on the other hand, is supposed to be a distinctly redemptive or transformational oration (an offering) intended to cause a recognizable behavioral change in the lives of hearers. If the messenger is less than serious or is in any way perceived to be pretentious or insincere, then likely the message and the messenger will be hardly received and largely not believed.

Aesop relates a fable of the shepherd-boy who watched a flock of sheep near a village, and brought out the villagers three or four times by repeatedly crying out, “Wolf!” When the townsmen would come to his aid, he laughed at them for their trouble. To him it was all a big joke. As fate would have it, the wolf did truly come at last. As he had done previously the shepherd-boy shouted the crucial alarm in fear of the impending danger: “Pray, do come and help me; the wolf is killing the sheep!” No one paid him any mind nor rendered any assistance. The wolf made sport of the flock and the boy was devastated over his loss. The moral is clear: “There is no believing a liar even when he speaks the truth.”

Dr. Reginald D. Terry is pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska. He is a published author of the book, Associates In Ministry, a text which encourages the relationship between the pastor and the associate ministers of the church. His doctoral thesis explores and offers an excellent curriculum for nurturing persons who aspire to enter into vocational Christian ministry.

For contact or more information, Dr. Terry can be reached at 402-554-1080, or emailed at Rdterryfic@aol.com.