Pride at the pulpit
Eliezer Roque Cisneros
FIRE AND BRIMSTONE
Preachers are too caught up trying to say new things.
The temptation is always there, disguised as a standard that they must rise above and beyond in order to justify their services in ministry. And we, fellow churchgoers, are encouraging pride at the pulpit.
With our consumerist sense of entitlement we demand interesting topics, novel and insightful, yet in-line with our socio-political values.
This mindset voids the desire for simple truth and breeds arrogant ministers prone to seeking recognition for the messages they bring the saints of God. Illustrations become jokes, self-disclosure becomes self-endorsement, and the once confident stride of a steady workman becomes the pompous strut of a show horse.
The pulpit becomes a platform. Though toxic to our churches, we encourage this attitude with disregard to the consequences.
I sat down recently with College View Church’s lead pastor Harold Alomia, and he explained arrogance, and why it’s detrimental to the church’s religious experience.
“I would say arrogance is one of the biggest hindrances in our ministry, because arrogance makes it all about you, your talents, your delivery, your ability with the text, your presence, the way you dress. Arrogance shifts the focus from scripture and Jesus to the ability of the speaker,” he said.
After the service is over and members leave their pews, the speaker usually shakes hands with everyone. It’s during this exchange that we do the most harm. We praise mortals for “their” speaking abilities and for the new truths/takes on Bible passages that “they” discovered. We glamourize and thus emphasize the speaker's ability.
What are the compliments exchanged at the foyer with the preacher? Most positive feedback to the preacher, is about the delivery (“great sermon,” “enjoyed your message”) or the ideas promoted (“I really liked … ,” “I never saw the text that way,” “I haven’t heard that preached since … ”), and my personal least favorite: comparison to a prominent white adventist man (“you’re going to be the next…”).
Those are half-handed compliments, not only to the speaker but to God. They not only point back to the human component; they equate successful preaching to entertainment, novelty and (oh God) prominent white men. Take the latter of the three with a grain of salt (no hate Pastor Batchelor).
Like kittens, easily distracted by all things new and shiny, we ooh and ah, mercy and amen after anything that rhymes or challenges what we know is true but wish it wasn’t. We are tempting young and upcoming preachers before they even step on the platform to understand that what we want in a sermon is exactly what it sounds like: what we want.
Long gone is the joy of listening to the message of the Bible simply for what it is: The eternal inspiration of God. Today, we rely heavily on the “effectiveness” of the preacher—the momentary excitement of man.
Leaning on the rhetoric of the speaker in order to catch the fullness of the Bible text is like expecting the cafeteria server to chew our food to make digestion easier for us. The cafe worker can’t masticate and digest the nutrients on our behalf if we expect to walk away having contributed anything to our bodies.
I'm not against the expositors of the word adding personal flavor or rhetorical texture to a sermon.
Were it not for the way Paul sculpted his messages to the churches, his letters could have easily drifted into a sea of ancient memorabilia from the early church. Romans, Corinthians, Thessalonians and a sizable portion of the New Testament would never have found a place in the cannon we now know as the Holy Bible.
Alomia touches the heart of the issue. Ultimately, arrogance defines who the sermon is about. Selfish pride will always point the listener back to the preacher. However, as Seventh-day Adventists, we hold that all Bible truth points back to Jesus.
Praise comes naturally when the sermon is executed with power and conviction, but that praise belongs to God.
Arrogance is rarely addressed as a major moral issue in our preachers. Young men and women sometimes step up to speak without having anyone remind them of the privilege and responsibility that the pulpit wields.
I wish I could stop here and say this issue was limited to the face we see behind the pulpit, but arrogance runs unchecked in the background.
It’s present in the church leaders we don’t see. Self-pride will bring out personal weaknesses that can throw men and women of God into the quicksands of lust, greed and bigotry. Arrogance is easy to dismiss because by the time it finishes rotting the backbone of church families, the base pride has morphed into something more severe.
There's nothing wrong with being open to seeing the shortcomings and being anxious to change.
It's called humility, the antithesis to arrogance. There's only one person we should learn humility from. Just saying, His name makes my unrighteousness feel like muddy and torn apparel. His humility can replace our pride with God’s power at the pulpit. When we look to the righteous Son of Man, selfless and meek, we won't be satisfied with where we are today.
Eliezer Roque Cisneros is a junior theology major.