I was sitting in seat 34B on a flight from Minneapolis to San Diego. It was a center seat. Next to me in the window seat was a very pleasant woman who was part of a large church group going on a short mission trip in Mexico. We got to talking about their mission and her church for a little bit. She was expressing how much she loved her church and the pastor’s preaching style. He apparently uses “visual aids” to enhance his sermon and help cement the message in people’s minds. She told me how he brought a motorcycle into the church service once or had people dress as biblical characters. It was a pleasant conversation; she was genuinely enthused and motivated by being part of this church. As we landed at our destination, I wished her God’s blessing and we went our separate ways.
I was reflecting on this conversation some time later and it occurred to me that this woman never told me about the content of the messages or how they affected her life. Instead she focused on the visual aids and how engaging it was to listen to the pastor preach. It made me think about my own life and ministry. But first, a little disclaimer. In my own church we’ve used various types of visual aids in our sermons and I, myself, have done so when I have had occasion to teach on a Sunday morning. So I am not here criticizing this woman’s church or pastor. They seem to be genuine, dynamic believers. I simply took this opportunity to look deeper at my life.
I remembered what Paul said to the Corinthians about his own approach to preaching.
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV)
You see, Paul was not interested in being known for his own wisdom in delivering the gospel. He was not focused on visual aids or clever presentations. There was only one message Paul wanted his hearers to hear – Christ crucified. Faith must reside on the power of God, not the ingenuity of men. So I asked myself, “what do people hear when I preach? Is it my cleverness, my speech, my stories, my wisdom? Do they walk away with simply a better impression of me? Or do they hear the Holy Spirit?” Am willing to use whatever tools He gives me in order to deliver the message He has to give, but they have to His tools, not mine.
But it also goes beyond just preaching to how I live my life in this world. Am I focused on showing off my spiritual bling or reflecting His presence? My hope is that people would recognize a genuine relationship with Christ in me and not see a witty, charming, slightly-balding man. But the only way that can happen is if I keep my focus on Him, if I remember to stay close to Him and not wander into the weeds of the world’s values. Worship, Word and Prayer are the foundation of a healthy Christian life, but they are not ends in themselves, but the doorways into conversation with our Friend and Savior. A conversation that spills over into all the conversations I have with the people around me. Conversations that will help others see the power and wisdom of God. And I, I just fade into the background without a single motorcycle in sight.