This past Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to preach on Noah. So what did I use as my illustrations? I read one of Micah’s storybooks on Noah, I talked about playing Madden on my various gaming systems, and I had to mention Field of Dreams. This was one of my favorite combinations of illustrations though I still prefer the Sunday that I compared Jesus to Michael Scott from the The Office and professed my tremendous love for bacon. Now these are not necessarily your common illustrations, and I doubt that you will find many of these in your standard books of illustrations. They are, however, for me vehicles that carry on the narrative theme of the sermon, (You’ll have to trust me about that.) while also providing an important aspect to preaching: the preacher as character.
As previously mentioned, The Office is one of my favorite shows, and the main reason why is the characters. I have an emotional attachment to Michael (sad that he left the show), Jim, Pam, Kevin, Creed, and even Dwight. This attachment also lets me more fully enjoy the dialogue and interactions between characters. “Bears, beets, battlestar galactic” is not a funny line on paper. But say that line to a fan of The Office, and we cannot help but laugh out loud as we think about the peculiarness of Dwight, the humor of Jim, and the relationship between the two of them. In much the same way, all of us have probably used this line, “I guess you probably had to be there.” Jokes have the potentially to be funnier when the relationship is deeper.
Similarly, a word of truth can be powerful, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.” That is a powerful testimony about God’s steadfast love. However, this song takes a more profound turn when you learn that the song’s writer Horatio Spafford wrote those lines on a boat crossing the Atlantic on the way to meet his grieving wife who survived a terrible boat crash that claimed the life of their four daughters. Because we know this story, we feel those words even more.
Take a high school football game. How much better is it to watch this amateur event when you know someone on the field? It’s more entertaining. You are more emotionally involved (maybe too much, but that’s another story). You are more impacted by what happens to that person. We care more when we have a sense of connection to what is happening in front of us. Preachers must take this to heart. We cannot become merely spouts of the Word of God, but we must be instruments through which people can more wonderfully hear God’s song of grace in the Word. Doing that requires us being a character in our own sermons. One famous definition of preaching is this, “Truth revealed through personality.” One of the great gifts of being a preacher is using your personality to communicate God’s Word! God has called and chosen me: the sports loving, new Daddy, bacon-loving me to communicate His word. God does not ask us to be someone we are not, instead the best preaching is done when we are fully our God-created-selves in the pulpit.
The preacher as character does not mean that we are someone that we are not, but instead demands that we are more fully ourselves, and we become self-revelatory in our sermons. Again, people care more, listen better, and respond more urgently when they are connected to the preacher even if that is through relatively light-hearted ways. Because I have expressed my love for bacon on multiple occasions on Sunday morning, not only are my bacon jokes funnier to the congregation, but also they have a better understanding of who I am, and so currently in my wall of my office I have bacon floss hanging up. Let me be clear, we need to be purposeful about our self-revelations. Just because I like the 49ers does not mean every sermon has to include an ode to Jerry Rice. Or that I should become overly transparent, but hopefully if you asked my congregation to tell me some things Aaron like they would be able to give you multiple things that I have purposely revealed to them including some of my stumbles.
Let me sum it up in this way. The preacher as character is self-chosen personal revelations that give people insight into the pastor as a human being. They help with the content of a sermon by providing opportunities for humor or illustration that build on previous revelations. While this can be easily overdone, when done in the right amount people have a greater understanding of who you a, and thus they care more about you and ultimately, and most importantly, what God has given you to say to them.