by Robert Earl Houston
There is no way to type a sound effect. No matter how well you try to convey a principle by using sound, it rarely works. So, I need to borrow your imagination.
Imagine a record playing (this is for those of us 40 and older) and then all of a sudden someone grabs the arm of the turntable and the needle scratches across the 45 or the LP. Yes, THAT sound! Got in your head? THAT sound!
That is the sound that most pastors and preachers never, ever want to hear nor experience. It’s the sound that something’s amiss. Something’s wrong. Something is terribly wrong. I’ve had the opportunity to preach at Churches, Conventions, Conferences, Prisons, Chapels, Mortuaries, Mega-Churches – generally, wherever the Lord has granted me favor to exercise my preaching gift. However there have been times where I was at the right place, with the right people, at the right time, at the right venue and somehow the sermon or the presentation didn’t do as well as I would have thought it would have.
I don’t think I’m the only preacher this has happened to. Alpha Flunk Alpha is a fairly large fraternity. You’re either an Alpha man, able to get past the defeat in the pulpit or you’re a Flunk-Dog, who becomes undisciplined and void of understanding of missing the preaching moment and making it a habit instead of a rarity.
I want to discuss this matter with you. However, before I do, let me tell you my personal experience.
When I was living in California I was the guest preacher for the California Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors Conference. Someone who had heard me recommended me and they in turn invited me to be their guest preacher. I need to say that CSBC is one of the most racially diverse Christian bodies in the nation. And as an African-American it was a high honor to be invited to preach at this session, which was held in Oxnard, California. They were excited that I was coming and I was excited to be asked to speak. However, I decided to change the caliber of my messages and went from my usual preachment to a more heady and scholastic presentation. I used so much Greek that you could almost smell the herbs and spices of Greek Cuisine as I preached.
I remember walking off stage – the audience was polite as I preached. One of the caucasian brothers from Northern California who was the program director said “we really enjoyed you . . . but we were looking for that way you close your sermon (traditional black baptist preaching).
My error was that I tried to change for an assignment that was based on how I usually preach. Instead of being Robert Earl Houston, I converted myself into another version of myself that was less passionate, less connecting and was not even familiar to the crowd nor myself.
What I should have done was preach Christ in the way that He gave it to me. Look, I can’t stand flatfooted, non-emotive and just tell a nice story or lecture through a theological truth. It’s not how I’m wired. I’m high energy! I talk fast! I am a veracious reader and I spend countless hours preparing and researching a text. I really love preaching the Word of God. I cry. I am known to all who hear me as “the preacher who takes off his shoes” – I’ve been doing that at the conclusion of my sermon since I was 17 years old. I sing. But all of that combined together makes Robert Robert. To eliminate or forsake any of that makes me less available to the Holy Spirit in the place of preaching that He has arranged on my behalf to minister to His people.
Every preacher needs to preach the Gospel the way that the Holy Spirit gives it to you. The Gospel is not intended to create carbon copies of another preacher. There’s only one T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Stephen Olford, Kenneth Ulmer, A. Louis Patterson, John Piper, Joseph Prince, and there is only one Robert Houston. Every preacher has to find his or her voice – be comfortable in where God has you. I’m not saying don’t improve. But improve YOU – don’t try to morph into someone else.
The Apostle Paul had a stable of young, firebrand preachers under his wing. Timothy, Titus, Barnabas, and the list goes on. However there is no admonition to preach like Paul. He taught to be sound in the faith, be careful of the gospel in which you have been entrusted – but how you communicate the gospel is personal. Be YOU!
Even if you split verbs – BE YOU!
Even if you have a deep southern accent – BE YOU!
Even if you have the cadence of a college professor – BE YOU!
Even if you preach from iPads instead of paper – BE YOU!
When you “BE YOU” you allow the Holy Spirit the great opportunity to use YOU to communicate truths of the Word through your personality.