PREACHING AND PERFORMANCE
by Rick Freuh
SOURCE Following Judah’s Lion Blog
The word performance indicates playing a part or imitating a character. It carries with it a sort of thespian quality or the display of a certain talent, both of which makes it part of the family of entertainment. You go to a concert to hear a musician demonstrate his proficiency; you attend a play to be impressed by the acting abilities of the players; you go to a sporting event to see athletes use their talents in competition; and even political debates are judged on performance and not substance. In this world performance is far more cherished than is substance. Performance is the mainstay of western culture which thrives on titillation, exhilaration, and amusement.
I Cor.1: 18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
Preaching is not just speaking as in presenting a research paper. It isn’t just reading a theory. It isn’t just a generic communication of facts. There is a mystery, a divine authority and power and a divine commission associated with true preaching. The preaching that is ordained of God is a process of communicating divine truth in a way that allows the Spirit to touch base in the ears and go all the way to the heart. It is a great mystery but true preaching does not rely on the personality of the man, nor his intellect, nor does it depend upon his level of academic training. Yes, there is a connection between the spiritual commitment of the preacher and the spiritual power generally afforded his preaching, however sometimes the grace of God even accomplishes His will in spite of human disobedience.
The preaching of God’s Word is the highest calling in vocation and in the Spirit. It transcends human speech which is usually an attempt to present some case of earthly design. This kind of communication called preaching is a magnificent ministry of the Spirit. Unseen and many times unnoticed, the Spirit takes His own words through fragile lips and gives them the wings of life which often find a soil with which to plant a seed which will later bring forth fruit. It is an amazing act of eternal grace. In fact only the Spirit can move in the temporal and accomplish the eternal especially within the carnal and fallen hearts of God’s worst enemies.
And after a sinner has heard the gospel and believed, he grows by feeding himself through the same Word and by the same Spirit that were used to transform him into a new creature. And he also grows and is edified through the preaching of God’s Word by someone called and anointed to proclaim and teach that Word. The spiritual gift of teaching is when someone to whom God has given that gift faithfully surrenders his own will and teaches God’s Word under the power of the same Spirit who gave him that gift. And if that vessel uses his gift in brokenness and humility then God’s Spirit can anoint His words with power far beyond his ability or oratorical prowess or even his oratorical liabilities.
Throughout church history there were always men who relied upon the strength of their personalities and would draw great crowds. Being self absorbed and desiring the adulation of people is not new to our generation. In fact it is a liability which lays dormant in all of us and sometimes quietly comes to life and tempts us. All preachers must do battle within themselves so that we are not at the mercy of whether people like or dislike us, or like our preaching or do not. We must always preach God’s Word and for God and not for people. It sounds easy, but the forces of wickedness and our own flesh are sometimes very cunning.
But seemingly in these modern times the allurement of entertainment and emotional thrills have demanded a more performance dominated method of preaching. There is nothing wrong and sinister about preaching with passion and emotion, but there is something extremely sinister when preaching becomes an art form accentuated with much humor and storytelling and a thespian-like delivery. And in this generation many so called preachers strut their stuff on television screens and in large churches and rented stadiums to the excitement of great crowds. And make no mistake, entertainment and great performances are rewarded with colossal offerings and big business among the trinket tables.
Many of these ecclesiastical thespians act out their stories with great and swelling words and with great deference to their personalities and performance abilities while paying precious little attention to the authority and purity of God’s Word. Many people will applaud intermittently during the performance, and some will even rise to their feet to show appreciation for what has become a stirring performance. Men like Joel Osteen tell a joke before he even “preaches” his redundant message. That alone should give you an indication about what he preaches and what he does not preach.
Men like T. D. Jakes is a fantastic story teller who walks all over the stage making pantomimes and using body language and facial gestures to tell his elongated stories. And all of this to an appreciative crowd who responds to his alluring and uplifting message as well as his performance itself. Many times preachers will elicit the desired response by saying things like “Oh, you aren’t hearing me” or “Don’t get quiet on my now” and other phrases which draw more audience participation. A performer desires to be acknowledged and appreciated for his performance. I have heard many a performer say, “Man, this is good preaching!” about his own preaching.
The message is Biblically unsound but the performance is overwhelming. Jesse Duplantis is little more than a stand up comedian who preaches nonsense and has made a literal fortune telling people they can be rich as well. In reality all his listeners need is a mailing list. But imagery is now carefully crafted and earthly allurements have muscled out eternal promises. And in order to deliver these fables men and women have refined wonderful performances that fill stadiums and titillate crowds. And with the atmosphere of a multi-level marketing meeting these puppet masters present their greatest performances which only serve to bring more into their deceptions.
Another way these pretenders perform is through a supposed channeling of God’s voice. “Thus sayeth the Lord” is the preamble that allows them to speak things they suggest is being spoken directly by the Spirit. And people listen in awe as if they are hearing from God verbally. Miracles are also leveraged in order to provide an atmosphere of the divine. Words of knowledge concerning many maladies are thrown out and caught by whichever unsuspecting follower thinks it applies to him. And the miracle is often activated either by some seed faith gift of money or by the performer’s own hands laid upon the person. Yes, it is your show of shows.
But true and faithful preaching must never be weighted toward anyone’s personality or their delivery. The Word of God must be the power. That does not mean we cannot raise our voices and show emotion of even tell some story which can be used to illuminate a Biblical principle. But most of us know what is a performance and what is of the Spirit. These modern preachers do not even walk a fine line, and when their messages are so unbiblical and carnal, it reveals the necessity of an entertainment laden performance.
But there are so many itching ears out there that the demand motivates the supply. And spiritual success is measured by crowds and money and personal jets and book sales. And instead of humble men of God you now have celebrities who own more than one home and attend their own book signings. And instead of feeding the sheep they fleece them. And instead of being instruments of the Spirit they are court jesters. And instead of spreading the kingdom of God they spread their own kingdom. It has become a pitiful cast of characters who have become wealthy in their own religious theatre. The romance between preaching and performance is now a marriage.
Preaching God’s Word is a sacred calling of the Spirit. It requires personal brokenness. It requires a deep searching of the heart. It requires a constant vigilance concerning motives and manipulation. To be used as a human conduit to convey God’s truth and God’s gospel is a great honor which includes grave consequences. None of us can claim perfection or even complete surrender at all times. But hopefully and prayerfully we are not performers on some stage whose desire is to stimulate the fleshly juices and thereby elicit the praises of men. God forbid.