Preaching is a vulnerable activity. Anytime anybody stands in front of a crowd there is personal risk involved. Expressing oneself, especially in an authoritative tone on controversial subjects is an invitation to trouble.
Speaking publicly invites accountability. Everything we say in public is open to critique by our audience. In this day of social media, we may find ourselves accountable to an even broader audience of people who were not even present when we preach. This might not be a big deal if we were preaching to appreciative audiences, but increasingly we find our message to be at odds with the culture – and sometimes even with the church. It might be a whole lot easier just to sit down and keep quiet.
Given this, it is surprising that people still stand up to speak at all. Yet it seems that there are more voices speaking now than ever. Public communication is instant and ubiquitous. Every person has a media channel. Every opinion has a megaphone. It is not lost on me that this very act of blogging is a case in point. In such an environment, offering critical comment, sometimes scathing critical comment, seems safe and perhaps even appropriate. Of course there is a need to interact helpfully and critically to public discourse, but in these times when “flaming” is an anonymous and risk-free activity, it makes one wonder whether preaching is a safe activity.
We were never promised that preachers would be treated well or that the proclamation of the gospel would be received well. They killed Jesus, after all. It seems that preachers are being reminded once again that our calling comes at cost. Preachers are vulnerable.
Perhaps we should be. Preachers are probably at their best when they are most open to critique. If we work to protect ourselves, either by holding back what we say, or limiting those to whom we say it, we could probably do damage to the gospel that we preach. It is a kind of irony, that the preacher who shows transparency and who could be most vulnerable as a result, might actually be most greatly appreciated for the authenticity displayed.
When Paul spoke to Timothy about “preaching the Word,” he rested his authority on two sources: the Word of course, which is profitable for doctrine, teaching, and rebuke, but also on his own personal authority, where he had been, what he had suffered, and who had taught him (1 Timothy 3). Paul’s preaching was marked by an oxymoronic confident vulnerability. This is the kind of preaching that God seems to want to use.
Vulnerable preaching can be great preaching, when it does not have to lack conviction.