Preaching or Performing?

By Joel Hess

“A desire to preach without the burden to study is a desire to perform!” HB Charles Jr.

The above declaration absolutely pummeled me this past week. Thank God. It is so easy for a pastor to cut study from his work week. So many emergencies interrupt and there are so many little things to do. Writing a sermon becomes just another task to mark of the to-do list.

It’s especially dangerous as the preacher reaches his twelfth year. He has preached every text and prepared for every book of the bible. At the drop of a dime, a competent pastor should be able to preach a decent law and gospel sermon on any given text without it being bad.

The pastor has also become comfortable; he is comfortable in the pulpit, holy scriptures, and with his congregation. People likely like him and nod their heads to his predictable crescendos and sober pleadings. Plenty of his members have said “good job,” even if out of respect. Ah, comfortability.

Achtung pfarrer! The pastor has reached a dangerous threshold. Slowly, sermons and Bible studies are no longer the product of struggles in Scripture, late night prayers, and early morning sweat. The sermons might actually sound better because they become easier, but they have become shallower. They sound more like a work of art than a cosmic proclamation of life and death, as HB Charles warns. The beautiful nooks and crannies of the text are unexplored robbing God’s people from deeper instruction.


At Jesus transfiguration, after Elijah and Moses disappeared and Christ remained alone before the disciples, God instructed, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” For sure, God made it clear that over Elijah and Moses, let alone Muhammad and Buddha, Jesus is the one voice all mankind should heed. But when God says “listen,” He doesn’t just mean symbolically! We preachers need to remember the importance of listening to Jesus. Listening means to not finish Jesus’ sentences for Him because we’ve heard it so many times. Shut up, mark out significant time in your calendar filled with busyness, tell some people no, stop performing, get out the Greek and Hebrew, and listen slowly, carefully, and deliberately to Jesus. His Word is for YOU!

Unless you become like a little child….

We are still that little child on Jesus knee, in holy baptism, leaning on his bosom like the disciple Jesus loved. And Jesus is still saving the pastor through His Words. He’s still shepherding the shepherd. He’s still preaching to the preacher. O Lord, open my ears. And may I not rush to quickly from listening to speaking.