What Preachers Are Fighting Part 8: The Great Preacher

To go to the seven previous parts of this post series:

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 1: The Epidemic of Fear

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 2: Guards at the Gate

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 3: Getting Past the Guards

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 4: Sense Making and Surprises

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 5: Compromise – Of Buses, Attention and HBO

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 6: Busy-ness: An American Way of Life

What Preachers are Fighting, Part 7: Let Me Entertain You

In Part 8, The Great Preacher

There is a danger in becoming too great a fan of any one preacher. That’s the point of this post – the error of trying to be THAT preacher, THAT teacher, THAT guy on TV. The temptation to be anyone you’re not.

Billy Graham

Billy Graham, August 1963

When I first started preaching 25 years or so ago, it only took a few sermons for me to realize I was trying to be (let’s call him) Pastor Irving. I would listen to the tapes of my messages (yeah, tapes) and realize I had unwittingly adopted a style and vocal pattern that weren’t mine, they were his.

I admired Pastor Irving and got all his tapes. I loved his preaching and wanted to be like him. So I copied him.

And that was my first mistake as a young preacher.

It’s not that we can’t and shouldn’t learn from other preachers and teachers – I suppose that’s the whole point of this website. But, ultimately it’s the armor story from David and Saul. When you get up to the pulpit or sit down to teach a Sunday School class, it ultimately has to be YOU because God has called YOU in that situation.

That little detail we get before David slew Goliath applies, I think, in the pulpit:

David said, “I’ve been a shepherd, tending sheep for my father. Whenever a lion or bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I’d go after it, knock it down, and rescue the lamb. If it turned on me, I’d grab it by the throat, wring its neck, and kill it. Lion or bear, it made no difference—I killed it. And I’ll do the same to this Philistine pig who is taunting the troops of God-Alive. God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.”

Saul said, “Go. And God help you!” Then Saul outfitted David as a soldier in armor. He put his bronze helmet on his head and belted his sword on him over the armor. David tried to walk but he could hardly budge.

David told Saul, “I can’t even move with all this stuff on me. I’m not used to this.” And he took it all off.
                                            I Samuel 17: 34-39, The Message

The temptation, of course is to watch preachers who attract thousands, who write books, who appear on TV, or even the popular preacher in your town, and think – “People listen to them and I want people to listen to me… so I’ll be like them.”

I remember a story a friend – who has taught me a great deal about ministry – told me a few years ago. He had gone to a church to preach a revival and it became clear to him early on that the congregation was expecting him to preach like a famous TV preacher in his denomination who at the time was riding a wave of popularity.

To my friend’s credit, he sensed what was going on and gently rebuked the congregation, which of course takes a great deal of courage when you are a guest in a different church. He reminded them that the focus of any message should never be on the preacher or teacher, his style or her vocal presentation. It was, is, and always should be about Christ, growing closer and closer.

There’s an arrogance when a preacher tries to be someone else – the same arrogance that is present when a congregation expects celebrity sermons. The implication is that what God is doing in and through you isn’t enough. He needs your help. It’s not humble to be someone else, but haughty when we put on some famous guy’s armor or forget that God has given us that assignment specifically.

You preach your life; not Billy Graham’s. As wonderful as Billy Graham is.

And in the interest of full disclosure, my pastor is a powerful preacher. When I substitute for him I must confess it is a temptation to want to be like him, especially since I know our congregation members miss him when he’s not there.

But I can’t be him. And the more energy I expend trying is energy lost in studying, hearing, interpreting, crafting, and delivering meaningfully. My pastor reminds me of this consistently.

Be the best preacher/teacher/leader God designed YOU to be.

Be you. And smile.


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