Life on Earth is an endless singing competition.
Right now a leading competition in the United States is called “The Voice.” The premise is clever. Celebrity judges listen to contestants without seeing them. Seriously, the judges sit in red, cushioned thrones with their backs to the contestants. If the singer’s “voice” is compelling enough, then a judge will swivel their throne around to look upon the performer’s face, which we are left to assume is perfect for radio.
The judge’s dramatic turn indicates two things:
- The contestant has made it to the next round.
- We will watch anything on television.
But here’s the twist: more than one judge can swivel! Should such a stunning event occur, the future former recording artist gets to select a judge as his/her mentor. As you can imagine, the aliens can’t stop watching.
To convince a hopeful to join their “team,” an interested celebrity judge must use his/her vast vocabulary to explain why such a voice warrants the judge’s condescension. Here is a list of the usual pitches:
- “Your voice is just so unique. You really bring a lot to this competition.”
- “Your voice is just so distinct. You really bring a lot to this contest.”
- “Your voice is just so dissimilar to the others. You really bring a lot to this tournament.”
- “You look great.”
The bottom line is, singers with a unique voice – who don’t sound too much like [insert name of Grammy winner] will advance. Why? Because they have their own voice.
Those who sound like Adele will weep and ponder life beyond a competition that very few aliens will even remember a year from now, when they conquer us and force us to sing for them.
Preaching is not a reality show. But preachers do run the risk of sounding a little too much like [insert name of Matt Chandler] for our own good. “Karaoke Preaching” is fun for the preacher, but it is immature and it weakens the “voice” that God has given us.
Influence vs. Impersonation
We all have pastors who have influenced us. I love a host of preachers, like John Piper … and I’m sure there are others. After listening to his sermons for years, it would be dishonest to deny that his voice runs through my head when I prepare a sermon from Romans.
But it would also be disturbing if I stood up in front of the congregation every Sunday and laced my sermons with Piper’s well-hyphenated theological explosions. In stead, the best thing to do is to let my preaching heroes lead me to the Bible.
In other words, I need to train myself to admire insightful exposition above quirky speech patterns. The speech patterns might make a sermon enjoyable to hear, but it’s a preacher’s level of insight that I want to incorporate into my own preaching (footnoting when needed, obviously).
My Voice, in Flux.
Good authors read more books than they write. Good musicians listen to more songs than they play. Both good writers and good musicians are eager to encounter colleagues who make them grow. They are constantly in flux, without losing themselves in the process. Preachers who encounter more effective preachers on a regular basis will benefit greatly.
The hard truth is that my preaching “voice” might be authentically mine, and still be bad. The “just be yourself” advice is great. But we can take a misguided approach to how we apply good advice. No one would suggest that we celebrate our tendency to mispronounce words. Few would ratify that monotone delivery of ours, even if we claim Jonathan Edwards as our inspiration. We must be willing and eager to tweak our “voice” if it needs tweaking.
Personally, I listen to far more sermons than I preach. Why? The obvious reason is that it is healthy for my soul to receive teaching from a trusted brother in Christ. I treasure that. But also because there are so many things about my preaching that need improvement. Many other preachers have already made those improvements and they can serve as working models.
Finally, if there should ever be a preaching reality show, I am not totally without hope. I have been told that I have the perfect face for radio preaching. And, I’m confident that I can secure the alien vote.