One of our former students in Kenya is a good pastor and missionary has been recognized by the ABC as a result of his gifts. He holds a high rank in the church structure and tends to be given important and significant postings. Whenever we are in Kenya, Silas and I try to connect sp we can talk and share.
Part of our connection, I think, goes back to our earliest time in Kenya when I was teaching preaching and Silas was in my class. One midweek afternoon during class, Silas asked a question. The question concerned preaching but wasn’t quite on topic. But, it was a hot afternoon, both I and the class were tired and for a change I wasn’t behind in the teaching schedule so we looked at the question.
Silas began with an explanation. He had preached a sermon in his assigned congregation on a Sunday. On Wednesday when he was doing some visiting in the community, he asked the people he was visiting what they had thought of his sermon. While the people had been in worship, they couldn’t remember the sermon. Silas’ question was what he could do to make sure people remembered his sermon. From the nods and whispered comments, I could tell that the whole class wanted an answer this question.
My first response was to jokingly suggest that he–and the others–needed to prepare more interesting sermons, which got a bit of a laugh. But then I went on to a more serious response to the question. I asked the class how many students had preached the Sunday before. As I expected, almost every hand went up–the ABC, like all denominations, didn’t have enough leadership and so students were sent out to preach almost every Sunday. When their hands went down, I asked the next question, “How many of you remember what you preached on?”
Again as I expected, not one hand went up. I did help by confessing to the students that I too had preached the Sunday before and didn’t remember my sermon either. We then had an interesting and worthwhile discussion on the value and place of preaching in the church, which accomplished two things: it helped the students understand their tasks of preaching better and as well, kept us all awake during the rest of the class that hot afternoon.
Most of us who are part of the church and who faithfully attend worship week after week don’t remember sermons. Preachers who work so hard to prepare and deliver sermons don’t remember last week’s sermon–we have already moved on to next week. On the other hand, we generally have lots of memories about the preacher–not about his or her sermons but about the time he or she did this or that. If what they did was positive, we remember them well and would say they were a good preacher. If what they did was negative, we remember that and would probably say they were a poor preacher.
It is the same with Sunday School teachers. We most likely don’t remember any Sunday School lesson–but we do remember the teacher. We remember how they treated us, how they showed their faith towards us and so on.
We live in a world filled with words but sometimes we forget that words are not as important as personality and character. We listen to people’s character before we listen to their words–and when the words and the character are at odds, we believe the character. The character of the speaker validates the words.
Where is this all going? Well, the point is that if we are going to present Christ to the world, our words are not going to be the primary vehicle of that presentation. The presentation of Christ stands or falls on the person doing the presentation, not the words we use to make the presentation. The more our character reflects the character of Christ, the better our presentation and the more likely our words are to be heard.
This is not to devalue our words or our preaching or our teaching–this is, after all, a blog post where all you have are my words. But it is focused on elevating our willingness to model ourselves on Christ. When what we are and what we say come from the same place, our message is much more likely to be well received.
May the peace of God be with you