I’ve been reflecting upon an experience that my wife, Abbie, and I had not too long ago. I serve as a Youth Pastor at a church in Dunn, NC, called Stoney Run, which is a part of the Pentecostal Free Will Baptist (PFWB) denomination. Every summer, the denomination holds a week-long Camp Meeting where members of various PFWB churches attend to hear a speaker preach. The only night my wife and I went, the speaker was a 16 year-old kid. Contrary to your suspected suspicion, this kid’s delivery was as good as a 25 year veteran.
Let me briefly explain.
Tyler, the kid-preacher, exhibited what I understand and describe as the stereotypical, southern, evangelistic Pentecostal-style preaching. His voice inflection surely roused emotion. The long-winded list of descriptions for a single point was rhetorically calculated to paint a picture for the audience to view. The pacing back and forth on the stage, sporadically speaking in tongues provoked those assembled to participate in the expected move of the Spirit. And, the minor detail of using a handkerchief to wipe his sweat was accessed more than once.
All of this is fine. However, if this is all there is, there’s a problem. In my brief experience enveloped in this culture, I’ve been rather disappointed by this kind of preaching. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a critique on the people who preach. Neither do I think that the details listed above are necessarily a problem. The problem, as I see it, is that within this kind of preaching, there is very little meat to chew on, there are (at some point) insults projected toward other (usually non-charismatic) believers, and the emotional arousal seems to leave out contrition, humility, and whatever else that would inject legitimate love into the heart of those listening.
I’ve written elsewhere on certain aspects of tradition and how it shapes us. Clearly, the aforementioned is the result of conditioning through certain tradition(s). Go to different regions of America and you’ll find different preaching styles that dominate the scene. This is expected, and, okay.
Neither my wife, nor I grew up in this type of church environment. In fact, we grew up in a part of Christendom that seems to treat these types of churches/preachers like an estranged sibling who has a mental disorder. Sad to say, but true. Even after I started my journey of faith with the LORD, this style was not something that I was accustomed to hearing nor appreciating. Now that I am serving as a youth pastor in this kind of culture (which ought to provide some insight into how God has worked in me), I can see more clearly how one ought to understand and handle this phenomenon (different styles of preaching) within the body of Christ.
The above critique is entirely my subjective opinion that is directly resulted from my personal conditioning as a believer. Clearly, the style of preaching that edifies me will not likely edify those who get edified by the style of preaching mentioned above. What I see as important, and what I try to maintain while discussing these things, are non-judgmental, inappropriate conclusions. It’s one thing to say that this preaching style is lacking in certain areas, and another to say that the preacher is lacking; we are all lacking. Given this, I hope it’s the case that what is stated here is understood as an attempt to provide constructive criticism that will result in the building up of God’s Kingdom.
I’m convinced, at this point in my experience, that there are certain core components that should make up all preaching/teaching, despite the particular flavor. This conviction is based on the Scripture’s testimony of God’s character, God’s purposes for his people and the world, and the explicit instructions that are offered throughout the various letters of Paul and others. Here is what seems to be provided:
- There should be zero insulting of other believers, even if we disagree with each other. We are all products of our environments (to some extent anyway). Be honest, but speak the truth in love, enveloped in grace and empathy.
- An implication of #1 is that we ought to recognize and make known that our abilities and what we offer has limitations; we cannot always give the final word on a issue or topic. This is not to suggest we can’t at times give a final word (e.g. Christ is Lord, Yahweh is the only God, The Holy Spirit regenerates sinners, etc.). But, humble recognition that our knowledge is limited on certain issues should be expressed in some fashion.
- There must be a moving on from the “elementary doctrine of Christ” in order to go on to maturity. There are certain segments of believers who hear the same core messages preached over and over in different ways, by different people. If it were true of believers back in the first-century, surely it will be the case today (Heb. 6).
- An implication of #3 is that there needs to be a recognition that when a congregation of believers assemble, the message provided must be addressed to believers, not to unbelievers. This is not to suggest we shouldn’t preach the message of God’s salvation, but only that we need to better discern when, where, and how.
- Rather than challenge believers to “consider” or “think” about what we preach or teach, the charge must be provided in more practical terms—“do this,” “behave in this manner,” “practice this,” etc.
Given all that’s been shared, I’m not closed to correction and/or suggestions that may differ from what I’ve stated. I’d like to hear your thoughts on these matters. It’s been something percolating in my mind, and even more than that, it seems like a good issue to resolve personally, so as to best set ourselves up to handle the various kinds of preaching styles, worship services, and teachers that we will come across in our experience as ministers of God’s good news.