Listeners can sense a lack of integrity like dogs can sense when someone isn’t a canine fan. People long for the preacher to have a deep sense of consistency about them. And it isn’t just the big and obvious issues like consistency in the preacher’s private life or relational issues. Integrity comes into play in smaller things too.
For example –
1. Do you read Hebrew, young man? That’s what I wrote in my notes after hearing a younger preacher say, “A careful reading would say this . . .” It’s interesting how many of the preachers with no training in biblical languages seem so quick to make reference to them. “This is a present continuous tense . . . Paul used a genitive so that means . . . the original word here is better translated . . . “ I could go on. There is almost no good reason to make references to the original languages. And if you aren’t trained, there are even more reasons not to try. Take onboard what the commentaries say, but don’t imply knowledge you don’t have. (An even bigger concern here is how credulous many listeners are . . . many actually don’t spot it.)
2. “If you read this book every week for twenty-five years, you would begin to see . . . ” I still find myself wondering if the preacher who said that had really read John’s gospel over 1300 times when he made that remark. It certainly undermined his credibility because it didn’t feel real. That’s the issue when integrity comes into question by what we say. Don’t imply that you have a shortcut to special knowledge (the same could be said of claims of direct revelation during preparation).
3. Is that really your angst that is firing now? Every now and then you will hear a preacher that seems to get worked up about something, but somehow it feels fake. It’s like a smile that doesn’t wrinkle around the eyes. It feels forced. Some preachers seem to convey a conviction about things that perhaps aren’t really convictions yet. That’s ok, just don’t pretend they are. It really undermines perceived integrity when your angst feels hollow and learned.
4. Personalised illustrations. Using someone else’s illustration is common fare in preaching. Pretending that actually happened to you, when it didn’t, is a lie.
5. Lifted sermons. Using someone else’s illustration is common fare in preaching. Being influenced by another preacher’s explanation of a text is good. Having your wording marked by theirs is unavoidable at times. But preaching a lifted sermon as if it were your own, well, what do you think that says about integrity?