This article is about properly processing profound preaching.
You saw what I just did there, right? The alliteration with the “pr” sound? It’s one of a number of techniques used in sermons to make the message seem more profound, more deep. Other techniques are to add corresponding background music, strategic pausing, rhythmic verbal pacing, and instructions to “turn to your neighbor and say…”, and even sprinkling in some impressive Greek and Hebrew.
Rhyming seems to have a similar effect. Here’s an example I heard recently: “You’re not a loser, you’re a chooser!” Well, since you put it that way, Amen! That’s certainly an easier way to stamp a message on the brain than something less succinct and memorable like, “In spite of your mistakes, shortcomings and even failures, you can still be an achiever in life because you can control the decisions you make for yourself that can impact your short- and long-term success.” Snore. Both statements are true and can inspire. But rhyming packs more punch, doesn’t it?
Rhyming, alliteration, tone and voice inflections, even background music to set the mood – all of these are powerful tools in effective communication. Generally, they draw added attention and emphasis to a presenter’s point. Sometimes I use alliteration and rhyming in my article titles and content for that same purpose. (Hmm, how can I add music to my blog posts?) Even if I didn’t, there’s still nothing wrong with it.
Except if the message itself is powerful enough without all the bells and whistles. Or worse, if it’s done with ulterior motives. If they’re done out of tradition, as we see in historically Black denominations, or just out of an individual preacher’s personal style, there’s no problem with that. But often such techniques are used in some Christian circles specifically in order to make a message appear more real and true, as though God’s Word actually needs help.
Some of these preachers use these techniques to illicit more head nods, Amens, hand-waving and other outward affirmations – get this – even if, or especially if, what’s being said is not quite biblically right. They are used for the specific purpose of tapping into the hearers’ emotions more than their intellect. Not always to the exclusion of the intellect, but to have the emotions more than the intellect be what makes the hearer decide how profound, how deep, how true the preacher’s message is. “How was church yesterday?” “Oh, pastor was on point!” “That’s great! What was his message about?” “I don’t really remember, but he had me dancing in the aisles!”
Please don’t misunderstand me. Let me say again that there’s nothing inherently wrong with using various techniques to heighten emotion, particularly when it’s warranted. If a preacher wants to shout at the top of his lungs that “Christ is risen!”, then – praise God! – I’ma shout it, too, if I want. Not because the Gospel needs our help to have real meaning, but because shouting can be a completely organic, Holy Spirit-generated response to an everlastingly awesome truth. He is risen, indeed! PRAISE JESUS!!
It’s just that shouting it – or rhyming it, or adding music to it – doesn’t make it true. And not shouting it, or not nodding to it, or not saying Amen on cue, doesn’t make it less true. It’s true because it’s true. And that makes it profound and deep without all the clever oratory and musical accompaniment.
What’s more, the degree to which a hearer is or is not outwardly demonstrative has absolutely nothing to do with how spiritual or unspiritual they really are. I know too many believers who show little emotion during a powerful sermon but who demonstrate the truths of God’s Word through the fruit they consistently bear in their daily walk with Christ. And I know too many other people who are quick to dance in the aisles at church as if they weren’t just dancing at the pole at the club the night before.
But I digress.
Sometimes people respond outwardly to a technique-filled sermon because they feel they have to. As I discuss in my article, The Emperor has no Clothes, nobody wants to appear like they don’t “get it.” That’s where the “taller boots” come in. “I must need taller boots,” a person might think, “because this sounds so deep, and everybody’s amen-ing and waving their hands, but I don’t understand a word of it.” Especially after the preacher has a habit of saying things like, “Come on, somebody!” or “Y’all ain’t hearing me!” or “You’re not ready for this!” or “I know this is going to sound crazy but…”
Sometimes taller boots are in order. Sometimes a sermon or message can honestly be over our heads. That’s okay, because it’s nothing that a follow-up email to the pastor requesting further explanation, or more personal reading and study, along with prayer for the Holy Spirit’s illumination, can’t fix. Many portions of the Bible are hard to understand. They are very profound, they are very deep. So, kudos to any preacher who can break it down, and to any hearer whose boots are already tall enough to grasp it or who desires taller boots. It’s worth the extra elbow grease.
But we all know, there are too many preachers who just simply fake the funk. They want so much to be affirmed. They work so desperately to lead a big church. They need so badly to be better than their peers (e.g., “Preachers of L.A.” and “Preachers of Detroit”). They desire so strongly to be invited to the table of the “Big Dogs” like T.D. Jakes or Creflo Dollar. So they rely heavily on clever techniques to prove they are spiritually profound, able to wax “elephants,” just as “anointed” as the competition (and isn’t that sad), and just as able to move people to dance in the aisles with their tithes in hand.
In my genuine passion, I’m using repetition myself right now to help me get my own point across. So, again, my problem is not that techniques are being used. My problem is that too often the motive behind the use of them is self-serving. I get no personal benefit with my use of technique here. Can we say the same for some of these preachers out there?
One of the worst self-serving techniques is changing the Word of God, twisting it just enough – or outright butchering it – to give people what they want to hear instead of what God has for them to hear. The goal is self-serving because it gets more people to go to your church, which equates ultimately to more money.
But greed isn’t the only motivation for these preachers. Pride causes them to try to come up with a new “revelation” (gimmick) so that they’ll seem hyper-anointed and untouchable in scholarly biblical knowledge. Or they’ll invent new doctrine by taking Holy Scripture out of context to fit what they’re doing in their personal lives.
Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, did this shortly after his adultery was exposed. He preached a sermon entitled, “I’m Still the Man,” (on YouTube) based on when the prophet Nathan told King David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7 NIV) after David’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband. Bryant took a moment of harsh rebuke against David from God’s Word and turned it around into our modern-day euphemism, “You the man!” Uh, Jamal, did you read the whole story (starting at verse 1)? Nathan was not paying David a compliment!
Tourè Roberts, pastor of One Church in Hollywood, justified divorcing his wife of almost 20 years by twisting the scripture that says, “What God has put together, let no man put asunder” into the point that it wasn’t God who put him and his first wife together, so he wasn’t disobeying. Shortly thereafter, he then married Sarah Jakes this past fall, borrowing from his new, mega-famous father-in-law TD Jakes’ bizarre interpretation from the creation story about how Tourè and Sarah were soul mates from before the foundation of the world. Sarah was his rib, while his first wife was just a place holder. (My husband’s internet radio show, “What Does the Bible Say?”, did a four-part series entitled “Tourè Roberts’ Soul Mates Message from Hell,” which you can listen to at http://www.latalkradio.com/Bible.php and scroll down to the October 26 – November 16, 2014 archived broadcasts.)
Creflo Dollar, pastor of World Changers International in Atlanta, is particularly notorious for waxing elephants with wildly unbiblical doctrine – so much so that my husband, who watches him and TD Jakes almost daily and records their programs regularly, has dubbed Dollar’s show, “Word Changers.” Over the years Dollar has preached that the tithe is the “covenant connector” between God and believers (oh yeah, and then there’s the Cross, too), that God has to bless us with material “stuff,” and most lately that believers’ sins don’t block God’s blessings since there’s no condemnation in Christ. He is such an engaging speaker, and he delivers his messages as if this crap is obviously true, how could you not “get it.” Dollar knows psychology (I think he has a degree in it) and if you’re not careful, he’ll make you think the problem is, not his false teaching, but you.
But I’m here to tell you, you don’t need taller boots, you need a big shovel to dig yourself out of that mess. The shovel is the Word of God, your Bible. As hard as much of it may be to understand, we Christians have to stop being afraid of it or lazy with it. The Bible is not as hard to read and grasp as we allow ourselves to think, and as some of these preachers want us to believe. Put more trust and confidence in the reading comprehension skills the Good Lord gave you, that we all started learning in Kindergarten, and that you use every waking moment in every other area of your life where reading is involved.
Forgive me if I’m being condescending, and I know that reading and writing don’t have to be everybody’s favorite things like they are mine. But I urge all of us to give ourselves more credit when it comes to understanding the Bible, comprehending its principles for practical Christian thinking and living even in the 21st Century, and becoming increasingly able to distinguish between biblical truth and false doctrine.
False doctrine is dangerous. It can provide immediate gratification but no preparation when fear, doubt or difficult times come. And they will come. It can give you a false sense of hope so that, when you learn the hard way that you’ve been knee-deep in profound crap, you might abandon the faith altogether because you haven’t been given any real direction on how to get out of it. It gives you a distorted view of Almighty God, so that you see Him more as your magic genie than as your merciful Lord. This can then lead you to being a bad witness to non-believers, only fueling their reasons for continuing to reject Jesus.
How is it that critics of the Gospel can see right through these manipulative preachers and so many of us can’t? Why do we keep our Bibles closed but put all our trust in this preachers? They’re only dangling carrots with their empty promises of prosperity, deliverance, “your best life now,” “purpose,” “destiny” and “becoming who you are in Christ.” And yet, time after time after time, the masses cling to their every word in spite of the fact that there’s no lasting joy or peace for the vast majority of them, even though they keep hoping beyond hope that this year will finally be their “season.”
Besides, how can I “become” what I already “am” in Christ? And how can I block my “destiny” when by definition I’m already destined for it? And what in the world does “walking in purpose” even mean? We have only one purpose as Christians: to glorify God on this earth. These trendy, New Millennium buzz words in the Christian church are nothing more than a smokescreen over an agenda to glorify our own dreams, our own empowerment, our own greatness – and, of course, the mighty men and women of God who so profoundly bestowed upon us such great revelations.
And that’s idolatry.
Or maybe it’s me who doesn’t “get it.” Maybe I’m the one who needs taller boots. Nope, not even for a moment should I think that. I’m no Bible snob, I have no formal training, I have no special insight into Scripture. I’ve just been reading the Bible throughout my Christian life, studying it for research and writing purposes, asking questions about things I don’t understand (still have to do that), measuring everything anybody else says by it (including my pastor husband at his insistence), and seeing the Lord confirm it over and over again. Every time I read it, I get something new out of it. Not new revelation, because all Scripture is already thoroughly profitable (2 Timothy 3:15-17); but new illumination, new insight, new growth. I just read it and practice it as best as I can. What’s so special or hard about that?
If we’re not careful, or if our own hearts are focused more on getting from God than on giving to Him, we’re more than just knee-deep in the crap of profound false doctrine. We’re in quicksand.
When you find yourself sinking fast in quicksand, you need a long and sturdy lifeline, and somebody strong and steady enough themselves to be able to help pull you out. I promise you, it’s not yet another “deep” but empty pep talk from some self-impressed preacher with a knack for working a crowd and giving them everything they want to hear but very little of what they really need. You’ll feel good and motivated for a minute, until life hits during the week and you’re back to square one, needing that emotional fix that’s waiting for your return, and your tithe, each and every Sunday.
Let the Holy Bible be your lifeline. Let God’s precious Word be your “fix.” You don’t need to wait for Sunday’s “deep” sermon to be nourished and encouraged during the week. Most of us have more than one Bible at our disposal 24/7, including tablet and smartphone apps. Just read it. Regularly. And consistently. You’ll soon see just how much of it you really can understand. Biblical principles, hundreds of fulfilled prophecies, awesome miracles, valuable life lessons, the resurrection of Jesus, the sweet story of the Gospel, and the anticipation of eternal life with God in heaven – all of the Bible is profound enough without preachers adding their superfluous dramatics and doctrinal twists.
The love of God, His majesty and power, His compassion and grace, His immeasurable wisdom, and His magnificent plan for the redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ are plainly and simply presented in the Bible. Any preacher who knowingly and willfully changes it should be avoided and exposed unless and until he repents.
Perhaps my next article will be about judging.
In the meantime, maybe you can start your reading habit with the following passages: Acts 17:11; Romans 16:17-18; Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 6:2c-3:10; 2 Timothy 3:1-7; 3:15-17; 4:1-4. Then, read the Gospel of John or Luke, the Book of Acts, and/or the Book of Romans.
I welcome your comments, except if they’re purposely offensive and resort to calling me out of my name because I’ve made you mad but you have no better way to refute what I’m saying.
Thank you to my sister in the Lord, Denice Todd, for letting me borrow “I need taller boots” for the title of this article. I began writing this article before I became aware of Tourè Roberts’ (pastor of One Church in Hollywood) Resurrection Day sermon, which you can see and hear on YouTube.