Friday, December 23, 2011

Preaching as Performance Art

I got into a conversation today about preaching – the goal of preaching, the various styles of it, and practitioners of it. And it got me thinking about an article that I once read by Clayton Schmidt called “Preaching is Performance Art.”

He says we have all heard preachers who “employ an artificial set of communication skills divorced from ordinary human life. These preachers assume that the purpose of the exegesis they learned in seminary is to spring-load sermons with technical data that will impress and subdue listeners. Or they spend all their time working on what to say and no time at all on how to say it.”

These kinds of preachers, Schmidt says, tempt us NOT to go to church.

The opposite of this is also a problem, people who deliver in order to draw attention to themselves and not God –

“The wannabe comedian,

the preacher obsessed with cultural awareness,

the narrator that strings together poignant but pointless stories,

the media maestro who spends hours mastering digital techniques and only minutes on the message,

the preacher with an affected pulpit tone,

the awkward speaker who has plenty to say but no confidence in delivery,

the masterful presenter whose message is a string of banalities,

the preacher who becomes convinced that personal experience and ‘life message’ are more interesting than the gospel.”

Schmidt ask, “How can preachers present the gospel to their listeners without getting in the way?” His suggestion is to redeem a dirty work. “Preaching,” he says, “is performance.” Preaching is textual exegesis, contextual analysis, and creative writing, but “performance lies at the heart of proclamation.”

“When preaching is done masterfully, the preacher almost disappears.” The preacher isn’t showcasing his mad skills as a communicator for the sake of the notoriety, nor is the preacher performing for the sake of entertainment. When it comes to preaching, performance must point beyond itself or it does not achieve its goal.

So how does this happen?

Most importantly, the preacher must internalize his words. “If the preacher writes a meaningful word in the study, the next step is to turn that ink (or those computer pixels) into blood in the pulpit. The blood courses through the entire person of the one called upon to be that moment’s incorporation of the Word of God.” Words must be delivered from within. If they are merely being lifted up off the page in the moment with no thoughtfulness as to how they might be heard in the moment then the magnitude of the spoken word is in jeopardy.

Performance takes practice, it takes a great deal on intention and thoughtfulness to think about what you want to say and then say it in such a way that touches that hearts and minds of those who hear it, but not for the sake of merely experiencing a good performance. In fact, no one wants to merely experience a good performance. People want to be moved and preaching that takes performance seriously has the power to do.

What have I missed here? Does this cause any problems for you

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