Sometimes, taking one step forward can make a huge difference. Instead of remaining at arm’s length, one step can cross numerous boundaries of personal space and move you into a zone of great importance—this is true in romance, in fighting, in conversation and in preaching.
Beginning preachers, and some that have preached for years, tend to preach their message at arm’s length. Some do so by some sort of conviction, others more unawares. They study and prepare, but it is all about the notes. From the Bible to the notes to the people. Arm’s length. Somehow, there is a nervousness about this thing out there called the message. The preacher is anxious about saying the right words, and that anxiety sometimes shows. Even without showing overtly, it does leave the message somewhat flat, just about the words.
But one step forward can make such a difference. If the entire process of Bible study, message preparation and delivery can all be brought inside the personal space, the preaching is very different. Instead of something the preacher is straining to not forget, now the message comes from the heart. Instead of preaching being truth preached by a personality (often a stilted personality trying to remember the message), now the message can be truth through personality. Instead of a message being handled at arms length from the Bible text to the listeners, via the notes of the preacher, now the message comes through the preacher with the force of the life transforming power of the Word—clear and unhindered.
I am not really writing about notes. More about whether the Bible is a curiosity and data source, a professional tool, or a personal treasure from a God who moves intimately into our personal space to wreck our self-absorbed worlds, bring about massive transformation and a deep intimacy. I am suggesting our message preparation should be a unique experience for each of us, rather than following the checklist of someone else’s model. I am saying that our delivery should come from the totality of a gripped heart and life in transformation, rather than being a mere transfer of information from notes to listeners.
It’s hard to pin down exactly how one message can be preached at arm’s length, while another comes through the heart of the preacher. Yet as a listener, it is usually not so hard to tell the difference.