While I don’t feel like we have to go nuts every weekend to “feel like we’ve been to Church,” I don’t think anybody hears me long without recognizing that I’m Pentecostal in how I approach preaching.
In the best of Pentecostal preaching, the preacher relates to the Word like a brilliant jazz musician—an improvisational, interactive love affair between the prophet, the instrument of language, and the audience. It is sensual and urgent in its passion for the Word. When it is extemporaneous, it works because of the long, disciplined study of the Word that brings true freedom in the pulpit, now enlivened by the Spirit. A man or woman speaks the Word of God as the oracle of God, and it is a cataclysmic, risky event.
I don’t claim that is always how I preach. But that is always what I go for. I absolutely do believe that those who take the role of the Spirit seriously (whether or not they come from a Pentecostal or Charismatic tradition) will approach preaching differently from those who don’t. It requires constant attentiveness to what God is saying is to this particular moment in this particular moment (which is why in preaching 3 times at Renovatus every weekend, I make no pretensions about the fact that those 3 messages with the same baseline content are going to come out very differently). It requires openness, it requires risk.
If Pentecostal preaching has suffered at times from being too “creative” in how we interpret Scripture, I can tell you there is still a role for creativity. I start with a text, but you better believe I am open to whatever the Spirit wants to bring to God’s people that day, whether or not it comes within a mile of the text or not. And as long as it doesn’t violate the general parameters of what is recorded in Scripture, I’ve got no problems whatsoever applying a text or passage to a situation that quite frankly is boldly outside the context of the text as it was written. You did not read that incorrectly. When you really believe the Bible is an open, interactive book that is alive and moving, and I’ve got to move with it. That doesn’t mean I get to make up doctrine as I go along (remember what I said about general parameters).
If you don’t approach preaching that way, you are a fundamentalist and probably sad about other things, not just preaching. My friend Dr. Cheryl Johns likes to say that fundamentalists ironically don’t have a high enough view of Scripture. They view Scripture as a fact book or an encyclopedia, but not a living, breathing word of God that can and should scare and even terrify us.
But via yesterday’s blog, I’m a Pentecostal who also believes that the Spirit is at work in my homework. That I’m supposed to be as “in the Spirit” when I’m doing the grunt work in texts and commentaries as much as on Sunday. The more I’ve done that, the more confidence I have to “flow in the Spirit” when I’m preaching on Saturday or Sunday.
One cautionary word though: Preaching in the Spirit is NOT the same as saying whatever you bloody feel like saying in any given moment. I’ve been bothered by Pentecostal preachers who assume anything they are emotional about is Spirit-led. What this usually means is if I’m mad and wound up, it must be anointed. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I’m on a roll and feeling loose and the congregation is loose and open too, that’s when I have to be especially cautious about NOT allowing myself to say something random and harmful in the emotion of the moment, as a way of guarding the sacredness of what the Spirit is doing. Just because I can say something, or that the crowd is warmed up and it would even go over, doesn’t mean that God is necessarily in it.