The fourth world. That’s what Haddon Robinson called it.
He took John Stott’s two worlds of preaching—the world of the Bible and the world of the contemporary listener’s culture, and he added two more. First, the specific culture of the local congregation (which may differ sharply from the contemporary culture in general). Then, the fourth world—the inner world of the preacher. We have to understand all four worlds to preach effectively.
I’d like to probe that fourth world in respect to personality types.
Now I know these are controversial. There are those in favor and those against. There are advocates for this taxonomy and those pushing for another. Some oppose them altogether. Some people refuse to be labeled (perhaps a personality thing); others love it (ditto). I’ll let you chase the type tests and theoretical discussions elsewhere. I’m going to try to avoid an exhaustive taxonomy of personality types and instead probe various possible features with a focus on preaching.
Before we dive into this non-exhaustive interaction with some aspects of personality types, let’s be clear on the premise. If you are a preacher, you preach. As much as I understand the spirit behind the prayer, “Lord, let me be invisible today; let us all only see you!” the reality is that people will see you.
And you will show in your preaching in more ways than just your physical presence. Your personality will be a grid through which the message passes multiple times in preparation and delivery.
So let’s jump in:
1. The Dutiful Preacher
Some personalities are strong on issues of duty. They are serious and diligent, responsible and dependable.
They tend to promote tradition, work hard and work steadily. I imagine that this type of person will be sure to follow a preparation process carefully (and as a teacher of preaching, I feel encouraged that someone might!). The hours needed for good preaching preparation will probably be found by this personality when others somehow won’t be able to find the same!
I feel like I spend a lot of time affirming preparation on this site, but the picture is not all rosy here. There may be a tendency to look for duty and to prioritize the presentation of duty. Perhaps the motivation will be assumed in others. Energy may be poured into what should be done, without focus on why, or understanding of why some seem to be, well, irresponsible. When the gospel sweeps through the hearts of a community, it will change that community for the good. But there is always a danger, for many personalities, to assume that community good is the goal and to short cut directly there. Changing hearts cannot be by-passed.
Continuing my unstructured thoughts on the influence of personality on preaching:
2. The Mechanical Preacher
This person cares about how things work. Practical in skills. Practical in life. They esteem the uncomplicated things in life, yet achieve the complex from the perspective of others. The end can justify the means, as long as a practical solution is found. I imagine this type of person will preach with a good level of applied practicality. Here is a solution to the challenge; go implement it. People appreciate being given the steps to obedience rather than just the expected behavior.
However, there will be a limitation here. People are not machines. It is so easy to preach as if they are. When you face this, do this, think this, remember that and then you will do well. Actually, life isn’t lived out in logical and practical steps. There is a profound complexity to the motivational life of any person. There is a responsive interconnectedness between individuals in relationship with God and others. Practical preachers are a blessing to the church but especially if they don’t treat people as simple machines.