By Jim Tune
Many debate the level of vulnerability preachers should exercise from the pulpit. If you share too much, you risk sounding self-absorbed. If you never share any personal stories, you may appear inauthentic or aloof. My experience is that most audiences embrace people who are willing to share their story, particularly those parts that reveal the preacher as an imperfect person, with whom others can identify.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting this as an “approach” to preaching. Nor should it be considered a public speaking “method.” If vulnerability in the pulpit is contrived, a perceptive congregation will see through it sooner or later. Most preachers know how to use an apparently self-effacing story of failure to evoke empathy and admiration from the listeners.
Long ago I heard the story of a minister and his wife who went to listen to a promising preacher one day. The man turned to his wife and said, “He is a good preacher.”
“Yes,” she answered, “but he will be better once he has suffered for a while!”
Great preachers are forged in the furnace of suffering. Alexander Maclaren said, “It takes a crucified man to preach a crucified Savior.” After 20 years in the pulpit, I am beginning to understand this.
God’s flock is a weak and wounded lot. Joseph Parker said, “If you preach to hurting hearts, you will never want for a congregation; there is one in every pew.” The only catch is that you need to be a broken man to be capable of preaching to broken hearts.
Preaching is never just an exercise in speech or oratory. Our preaching is lifeless if it comes from stony hearts. Our effectiveness in communication multiplies when the listener can say, “My preacher understands my circumstances; he speaks to my needs. He does not live a life that is isolated from the world I occupy.”
As my church grew, I had to delegate much of the pastoral care to others. At the same time, I had to guard against isolation. I know some large church pastors who have carried their separation to the extreme. The preacher ultimately is put on a pedestal. When this happens, the temptation to protect one’s reputation grows. The illusion of perfection is created, while any real brokenness gets buried by our vain attempts at “image management.”
My two decades of preaching has not made me impervious to the temptations preachers face. There have been times in my ministry when the chill of fatigue has come over my heart, when my soul no longer weeps, when the act of preaching becomes a “job.” Sometimes in the midst of sermon preparation—especially when I’ve left it until Saturday night—I slip into this mentality: Let’s just get through this one. Let’s just get this done. I’ll give it a better shot next week.
I need to listen to Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “The greatest danger for me . . . is that I should walk into the pulpit next Sunday because it was announced last Sunday that I would be doing so.”