(Photo: Dan Delzell)
How do I know if God was glorified and if He did a work in my soul through a particular message from a preacher? Well....did I come away marveling at the preacher, or marveling at God? As a result of the message, am I enthralled with the man or with the Lord? Who stands out more in my mind and in my heart? Who have I been more inspired to talk about to others.....the Lord, or the preacher?
We live in a day of superstar pastors and superstar preachers. That is not to say that every pastor who preaches to large crowds is trying to impress people with his personality and his own flare. Far from it. There have been many pastors in recent years who preach to thousands of people but who are not seeking to place the spotlight on themselves. These men are excellent preachers and are simply doing what God has called and gifted them to do. They sincerely try to keep their "personal impressiveness" out of the way of what God is doing. That ability to keep the focus away from us does not come natural to us. By nature, many of us human beings enjoy the limelight and we learn over time how to perform to make it shine even brighter upon us.
Oswald Chambers provided these insights on the matter: "The creative power of redemption comes through the preaching of the Gospel, but never because of the personality of the preacher. Real and effective fasting by a preacher is not fasting from food, but fasting from eloquence, from impressive diction, and from everything else that might hinder the Gospel of God being presented." Chambers then states this incredibly important truth: "Anything that flatters me in my preaching of the Gospel will result in making me a traitor to Jesus, and I prevent the creative power of His redemption from doing its work."
Did the sermon flatter the messenger, or did it inspire the hearers to bow down before our holy God in contrition, repentance, faith, adoration, and praise? If the messenger becomes the featured "craze," the "rage" and the "novelty," then the speaker is in the way of people getting to God. He may state with passion that he "feels the anointing" during his message. He may be very charismatic in his personality. But unless the hearers are truly being fed God's Word by the Holy Spirit through a humble messenger, then it may be just a show and the messenger may be just an entertainer.
If we want to put on a show, then we should be sure to make the focus about the man who will be speaking and emphasize that he is such a great preacher. We need to prop him up any way we can and turn him into a "celebrity preacher." We should always boast about his superior credentials, accomplishments, and speaking ability. It will become more about the remarkable man than about God's eternal Word and the life-changing message of the Gospel.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." (1 Cor. 2:1-5)
Paul was not there to put on a show. God made sure the show was about Himself, and He did it through a messenger who had previously been a persecutor of Christians. Meanwhile, Paul stayed out of the way as much as possible. Paul did not use impressive speech or engage in a flamboyant manner. It wasn't about Paul, and it's not about you or me. The minute it becomes about the preacher, the anointing of the Holy Spirit stops flowing no matter how much emotion is present on the part of the preacher and the hearers. Emotional stirrings that are created by a charismatic personality are not always the result of the Holy Spirit. It is easy to be swayed by dynamic speakers, but sometimes difficult for preachers to fast from showboating and self-serving antics.
When I elevate the Scriptures with a heart that is humble before Almighty God, I am in a place where He can use His vessel to proclaim His message. The larger a congregation becomes and the more popular the preacher becomes, the harder it is to keep fasting from impressive performances. After all, some people go to church these days for more than just the Word….some of them want to be entertained by a celebrity preacher. If we give them what they want, maybe they will come back for more of the same. If the crowd is growing, surely that must be a sign that God is blessing it, right? Not always.
Some preachers choose to embrace the role of a performer. I suppose we have all been tempted to do it at times. That doesn't mean we have to keep doing it. The glory of God can shine through us if we stop trying to impress people with our manner or our personality or our eloquence. Oh they may be impressed by us, but it will not be in the right direction. It will leave a deep impression of the man, but a very small impression that actually blesses the soul and draws a person closer to God.
In the end, it is certainly not wrong for a preacher to have a large following. We should rejoice anytime people are coming to hear God's Word being preached faithfully to the glory of God. Many faithful men of God have been used to reach untold thousands for Christ and His kingdom. We will get to enjoy fellowship with these believers in heaven. Until then, the challenge remains the same for all preachers: Point people to Jesus and not to our personalities or our impressive speech.
Did Oswald Chamber have his finger on the pulse of this issue? If so, then let's take his words to heart: "Anything that flatters me in my preaching of the Gospel will result in making me a traitor to Jesus, and I prevent the creative power of His redemption from doing its work." I suppose Americans will always be tempted to gush over their celebrities, even in the church. If only earth were like heaven, where the only celebrity we will gush over is God.