Passion In Preaching
From my own trials and errors in preaching, as well as listening to those of other preachers, I’ve come to wonder about where it is that preaching “gets in the zone,” to use a contemporary phrase. What makes it so that people ignore their watches and instead watch the preacher? Remarking about a minister who had full audiences wherever he went, an observer said that the preacher was on fire and people came to watch him burn.
Preaching gets interesting when the preacher is passionate about his subject.
Often the preacher goes on at a certain level until he begins to touch on his passion. Then his voice rises, his gestures are animated, his eyes have fire, and his congregation takes note. This is good as long as the passion is in the right place. Not so much when it is misplaced.
There are good points to be made that each believer, preacher or not, has a certain spiritual gift mix which influences that person’s perspectives.
~If the motivation behind ministry is prophecy, then that ministry will be strong on telling truth and “letting the chips fall where they may.”
~If the motivation is mercy, then that ministry will be long on compassion and binding up wounds.
It has also been noted that these two motivations often have a bit of trouble reconciling their unique approaches. I wonder if both could be tempered by placing their passions in the right place.
It may not be as noticeable now, but there was a time when certain preachers had a passion for judgment. They preached judgment. They described judgment in fierce terms. Their messages were dark and scowling. As they preached, their eyes grew large, their voices thundered, they reproached their audiences, and they urged people to flee the wrath of impending doom. It is noteworthy that sometimes those preachers of judgment would actually urge their listeners to “run to this altar.” There was little question that they were passionate about the message of judgment to come.
But is that where the passion should be?
Others of us may have had different passions. I have been passionate about the issue of the sanctity of life. That is certainly a worthy issue and it combines two passions for me: the passion for the Bible’s emphasis on the value of human life, and the passion for the historic American understanding of inalienable rights.
But is that where the passion should be?
Some preachers get passionate about ferreting out sins in the congregation. They see the negative side of every scripture they read, and if there is an animated part of their sermon, it will be when they apply those negatives to people they feel need to hear them. Other parts of their message may take up some of their time, but their passion is to deal with the issues and let their congregation know what’s what.
But is that where passion should be?
This is not to say that pointing out sin should be avoided. Ezekiel told of the white clothed man with an inkhorn who was to put a mark on “the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations” (Ezek.8:4). They had passion, and their passion turned to an inner groaning.
What of us, who have passions that may make us groan inwardly? It could be a passion for the integrity of the Bible as the Word of God. It could be a passion for the Biblical definition of marriage. It could be a passion about the profligacy of our day. It could be a passion about the degradation of society, the loss of morals, the hideousness of Hollywood. How are we to express our burdens and keep our passion in the right place?
Looking at the examples in the early church, we can see one passion that dominated everything.
It was a passion for the gospel. The gospel was their passion. “God forbid that I should glory,” said Paul, “save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). He underscored his ardor with these fervent words: “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).
Here is how to measure our passion. Is the gospel the highest moment of our message? Is the passion about dealing with sin an entrance to preaching the gospel of peace? Is the passion about life our springboard to focusing on the Prince of Life whose sacrifice covers all sin? Is the passion about ungodliness and the ills of our day a lead-in to proclaiming Christ, who died for our sins? Is our passion for promoting living a holy life our way to point out that on the cross “Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood suffered without the gate” (Heb. 13:12)?
This was the passion of the apostles. This was the passion of the great revivalists. Their strong messages led to where their true passion was; the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I have at times with great interest seen parts of messages preached by Muslim clerics in which they decried the degeneracy of the West and clearly pointed out evils that are really evil. Their denunciations of sins of the day were passionate. But that’s where it ended. And I have compared this with messages of Christians that have passionately focused on sin, and then end with an appeal to run to an altar, or something similar, but make scarce mention of the Lord Jesus. Where is the gospel in this? If our passion is in the right place, we will not preach the gospel as an “add on” to our message.
The gospel is the real message. It is where there is power.
Properly placed passion in preaching is preaching the “unsearchable riches of Christ” which bring forgiveness, healing, cleansing, freedom, and hope. That is something to be passionate about.