High-impact preachers are dynamic because of the I-am-off-the-fence faith they authentically exhibit and inspire…period. Here are some great thoughts from Calvin Miller on this subject:
Only the truly otherworldly have earned the right to speak of the other world. Faith is the sine qua non of all who preach. If the preacher cannot squint the eyes and see something of what John saw on Patmos, the proclamation is but a marked-down book in a secondhand store. Most people will only hear what a preacher has to say if that preacher has caught sight of the land to which the congregation is being led.
The world is tired of hearing pulpit “how-tos” that have arrived to take the place of genuine transcendence. How-tos seem to skate on the wheels of relevance. And no one wants to be accused of irrelevance in the pulpit. But if there really is a heaven and—God forbid—the hell that Jesus so frequently spoke of, never to mention eternity in favor of telling people how to handle their finances or relationships can hardly be called relevant.
Megachurch is all too often a congenial discussion of how to succeed, based on tiny exposition of a hidden verse deep in the bowels of Proverbs. What the world is clamoring for is not “the gateway to success” but a window on the universe next door. Alas, sermons too often study the floor of existence with no eye to the ceiling. And of course, most sermons come without literal windows. So do the churches, believing the light we create in huge concrete boxes is somehow more interesting than the light whose intensity burns the heart with a greater reality than the most clever worship team can create.
In this sense the sermon must be bound up in the lifestyle of the preacher. The preacher is not an answer man. Preachers are God-lovers. If they are robust in the vitality of their faith, their love will appear to be romantic. Romantic? Yes, there is something exotic in God-love. As in any other kind of love, preachers can’t quit thinking about it and serving it.
In some ways the prayer life of preachers is like two teenagers caught in the grip of puppy love and talking on cell phones till the batteries die. Their conversation bears the mark of immaturity about them, for neither of them can bear to hang up first. So to keep the conversation going each of them insists—“You hang up first”—“No, you hang up first”—“No way, you hang up first”—and so on ad infinitum, ad nauseum. Sure it’s immature, but it does speak to the fact that they have narrowed their world concerns to the two of them.
In a way people want to catch their pastor being romantic about the world he is trying to tell them about. Evangelicals have been bad about faking the distance between the two by using clichés: “Here there or in the air,” or “I’m on a roll and Jesus is my rock,” etc. And their immature response is best received by the spiritually immature.
But here and there, one meets real preachers of faith. They are not so angelic they abstain from popcorn, but they live in their communities as believers who keep an eye on the world that holds their affection while they preach to the one where they must serve. Such ministers are the essential persons of power.
I am reluctant to speak of this otherworldly romance for fear that reverencing preachers too much will turn them into inflated psychotics who believe they are God just because they speak for God. The meek not the blowhards shall inherit the earth. But when pastors keep their own humanity in sight, and still speak for God out of the love they bear him, a wondrous thing is born. God has found among such servants his best lovers. These preachers write sermons that are full of light.
Preachers are people of faith, but they are not oracles. They have too little wisdom and often make dreadful mistakes even while they are preaching. But their confidence in God leads them not just to confess their humanity; they can actually—if occasion demands it—ask their parishes to forgive them. They don’t take their preaching lightly, but they are never severe even in insisting that all who hear them must pay them heed as though their words are the final words of God.
Preachers are incarnational souls, who want God to inhabit them, for they long to be like Christ. They want to face the crosses of their lives with a resolution that their courage is a part of their identity in Christ. Yet they don’t want to magnify their own troubles in sermonizing or cast their leadership as a martyrdom merely to gather the congregation’s commiseration.
But when they speak for God—when they say, “Thus saith the Lord”—they mean to be heard, and their love affair with God endues them with the confidence that they are not just lobbyists for virtue, they are faith-filled servants. They are in love with the world that’s one world away. They are gripped in a divine romance, with no intention of disappointing their wonderful distant lover.