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Preaching Is Not a Performance

More than anywhere else, pastors and church leaders feel the pressure to entertain in the pulpit, which is, ironically, often atop a stage.

The local church is not a stage and the pastor is not a performer.

At the end of his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper includes the philosophy of music and worship document from the church he pastored. Principle number six in the list of nine principles that make up this worship philosophy focuses on authentic communication:

“Avoid the atmosphere of artistic or oratorical performance, but cultivate the atmosphere of a radically personal encounter with God and truth.”

Indeed, whether leading worship through song, through the hearing of the Word preached, through giving, or worship of any other sort, the pastor and church leader should direct attention away from themselves and toward the God they are leading others to worship and follow.

Toward the end of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman dedicates a chapter to televangelism, which was in its heyday in the 1980s. Though a non-Christian, he writes, “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”

Whether or not you preach on television, you will regularly fight the temptation to perform at the cost of your integrity. Tickling ears and performing for the sake of church attendees’ approval may attract crowds and funds, but at what cost? The pastorate is a post of humble service to God in leadership of His people, not the lead part in a Broadway musical.

The Sunday worship gathering of the local church is not to be consumed by parishioners, but completed by them. This is why those who lead a Sunday service are wise to encourage the active participation of church attendees in any number of ways: adopting various bodily postures, greeting one another, saying amen when the preacher makes a cogent point, and others. These practices are important not because they’re somehow holy or righteous, but because they discourage consumption and encourage participation.

Entertainment has been invading our daily lives since the television began shaping culture in the middle of the twentieth century. Social media has made entertainment an ever-present force in the lives of Christians, which has led them to want even their local church experiences to be centered around amusement.

Pastors and church leaders must resist the temptation to give in to this latent demand, even at the risk of losing church members to other, more entertaining church experiences. The purpose of the local church is to equip the people of God for the work of God. And much to the dismay of popular culture, faithful obedience to God often seems quite boring. God Himself is exciting and full of wonder, but the daily grind of faithfully following Jesus isn’t usually exciting.

We should lead and guide our churches to find contentment in quiet lives of humility in paths of righteousness instead of reinforcing the primacy of entertainment in the hearts of our people.

This is an adapted excerpt from Chris’ book The Wolf in Their Pockets.

    About the Author

  • Chris Martin

    Chris Martin is a content marketing editor at Moody Publishers and a social media, marketing and communications consultant. He writes regularly in his newsletter, Terms of Service. Chris lives outside Nashville with his wife, Susie, their daughter, Magnolia, and their dog, Rizzo.

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