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Submission and Humility

The first thing the preacher must submit to is Scripture. Proclaiming the Word requires a sure source. Typically that means allowing a Bible text to be the soil out of which the sermon grows.

The preacher also submits to the practice required to bring these words to life. It is often recommended that preachers internalize their sermons by reading them aloud 10 times. Don’t do the math; it will only scare you. A 20-minute message requires a lot of time for practice. But reading aloud is necessary. That is where the preacher learns to turn written language into spoken language. We write for the eye, but the sermon is for the ear.

To be more accurate, one does not actually read the sermon. One rehearses it aloud and slowly moves it from ink to blood. The word internalize is the key here. We do not attempt to memorize the words we have written. We seek to so internalize them through rehearsal that they flow freely from us through our personalities.

Submission is a close cousin of humility. It was certainly so for Jesus, who “being found in human form, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Phil. 2:8)

Preaching as a performance art places the preacher in a tough spot. Performers are often in the limelight, admired and appreciated. Effective preachers also find themselves recipients of admiration and gratitude. The temptation to pride can be strong.

Perhaps this image will help: A group of worshipers gather in the dark for an evening service around a small table that will bear a candle. The candle will represent the light of Christ. The assembly gathers in darkness and waits for the entrance of the candle.

At the appointed time, it is brought into the room by a person who moves slowly and gracefully to the table, lest she stir the air and extinguish the candle. All eyes are fixed on the entrance. But whom do they see? They see Christ, as represented by the light. He is the focus of their attention and the object of their worship. Is anyone else seen? Yes, the candle bearer. She does not appear to them as the object, but only as a necessary bearer of the object. She will be seen, but only in the afterglow of the light.

And what happens if she fails? Suppose she does not inspect the space in advance or plan out her route? She trips over a cord or a backpack. Whom then do the people see? They see the candle bearer, but they cannot see Jesus. The light has been snuffed out.

The humble preacher lets the light be seen. She submits to all things necessary to bear the Word to God’s people. When she succeeds, the people are brought into an encounter with God. They see Jesus, as he walks among them. Yes, she too is visible. But, she is not the object of the people’s attention, only the bearer of the Word, seen dimly in the afterglow of the light of Christ. For such preachers, we express our admiration and gratitude. Thanks be to God!

Yes, preaching is performance art. Do it humbly, but do it well.

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Clayton Schmit is professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.

Copyright © 2011 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.
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