Embracing the Bully Pulpit

By Paul Koch

Yes, Haven, most of us enjoy preaching, and I’ve got such a bully pulpit” – Theodore Roosevelt

On Tuesday evening, I was making my usual trip down to the Jiu-Jitsu academy for training, and I had the opportunity to listen to much of the President’s State of the Union address. Though I don’t clear my schedule to hear them, I’ve always enjoyed listening to a presidential address when the chance arises. It’s not that I’m curious about where the country is going or that I fear he might say something to discourage my hopes and dreams. Rather, I love hearing good speech. The high-level rhetoric that usually accompanies such a moment fascinates me. These are not off-the-cuff speeches. They are well written with purposeful moves and specific goals.

As I write this, there are various news sources that will be coming out with all sorts of objections to what the president had to say. There are fact checkers who will dissect the message and find how something was either intentionally or unintentionally misstated to help the speech obtain its goal. There will be lists of how the president was wrong at this point or hid the truth at another. And while that all may be correct, none of it much matters. For it is the moment, the real-time speaking moment of the State of Union Address, that matters.

It is the immediacy of the President of the United States being able to speak directly to the people of this republic (whole and unedited) that will be far more impactful than any rebuttal, any dissection, any review of the speech at a later point. This is why Roosevelt called it a bully pulpit. The direct access of a well-prepared speech to a hearer is an awesome tool.

I wonder how often our pastors think about such things.

Now, to be sure, the pulpit of a preacher of the Word of God is not a place for personal agendas or cheap rhetorical attacks on favorite pet peeves. It is a location from which the whole counsel of God is to be proclaimed. It is the hammer of the Law and the sweet salve of the Gospel. It is the bearer of both life and death, and we dare not take it lightly.

Yet in the life of the people who gather to hear, it is the ultimate bully pulpit. It is a direct address to God’s children that can cut sharply through the filters or our culture. It is a moment in time that is more powerful than the second guesses and analysis the day after.

In all that pulls on a preacher’s time—meetings, counseling, lesson planning, teaching, and visiting—it is this moment that must take precedence. Embrace the bully pulpit that is inherent to the call of the ministry, and use it for all its worth. Be intentional in your craft. It is not OK to have a sloppy sermon or to be ill prepared.

After all, everyone else is preaching—the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh—but you’ve got such a bully pulpit.