Your Preaching Ain’t My Cup of Tea but It’s A Fine Cup of Coffee
"Your Preaching Ain’t My Cup of Tea but It’s A Fine Cup of Coffee"
What do you say to something like that?
That’s what someone said to me right after I had preached what I thought was one of my all-time best sermons. I didn’t know whether to say “Thanks” or “I’m Sorry.”
It landed somewhere between criticism and a compliment and I smiled and replied with courtesy.
Just when you think you’ve arrived, somebody gives you a spoonful of “humble” to help you grow a little more. I honestly took no offense and used the occasion as an ice breaker to re-tell and invoke a few laughs here and there.
Like many of you, I was brought up under the preaching tutelage of a preaching Father. There were many conversations with Dad about sound scriptural content but we didn’t talk much about preaching style. He had his and he knew that I would eventually land on mine. But in my early days, whatever I was as a preacher, I became by observing and imitating the model I saw from my childhood and into my late teens until I left home to begin in ministry. Dad was that model and he drilled into me his preparation patterns which included the supremacy of praying long, studying to the point of memorization and structuring a sermon. Of course Dad had preaching models too. Those models were many of the early preaching pioneers who helped establish Pentecost in the West, especially in Texas.
Dad preached hard and mostly with a fervent and intense style of presentation. When you hear me preach and catch me in my “zone” as they say, more than I likely realize, you’re seeing my Dad coming through. I used to think that returning to school from a weekend with a voice hoarse from fiery preaching was surely a testimony to my friends that God had surely used me somewhere in a mighty way. Dad must have smiled behind the scenes knowing that somehow, I would hopefully learn to vocally pace myself for the long haul.
I’m asked frequently how I maintain vocal strength with the schedule I keep. I’m not completely able to answer that in a clinical way, but through the years I’ve learned how to manage. Various vocal techniques, warming up, staying in your range, rest and remaining healthy all lend to voice sustainability.
Likely, because of my vociferous preaching in those early days, I was marked as one having a style typically identified as “evangelistic”. We still have a tendency to mark preachers stylistically and not necessarily by content. Terms such as “pastoral,” “teaching-like” and “evangelistic” are thrown around almost haphazardly to describe someone’s approach to delivering a sermon. With some people, those terms speak more to volume, rapidity and pace more than they do substance. There are indeed different styles and methods of delivery and most tend to use styles that have been developed through the years often based on different preaching models of influence, whoever they may have been.
I’ve lived long enough to watch preaching styles come and go with the likes and dislikes of new generations. I learned and accepted long ago that in order to reach audiences where I’m invited, I have to be aware that my most comfortable preaching style isn’t everyone’s “cup of tea.”
I learned and accepted long ago that in order to reach audiences where I’m invited, I have to be aware that my most comfortable preaching style isn’t everyone’s “cup of tea.”
Honored By Opportunity
I’ve done this now for over forty years and have had the privilege to minister in many Church of God congregations. I actually have an exact number, but the number is hard for me to believe when I review it so I won’t even try it on you. Trust me though, it’s a lot and I have the miles on me to prove it all.
To this day, an invitation by a pastor to speak in his or her church is something I never get over or take lightly. While I’ve preached in many of our denominations 6,500 USA churches along with many around the world, there are many more that I’ll never get to preach in for various and good reasons. One of those very good reasons is, I am just not everyone’s “cup of tea.” I get that and accept it with grace and a thankful heart that enough people have liked the gospel “tea” I’ve served up to keep me busy for all of these many years. I’ve really been amazed at the wide range and types of churches and other venues I have been invited to. Certainly, I’ve spent a lot of time in churches that some would classify as Traditional Pentecost. On the other hand, I also have had the opportunity to speak in multiple non-denominational churches, and believe it or not, some of those churches were not Pentecostal.
Among the most meaningful and even interesting venues I’ve been to in recent years is a multi-denominational though not predominantly Pentecostal event attracting Christian music lovers from all fifty states and many countries. I’ll be going back soon for my fourth time and am always treated with tremendous kindness.
The first time I spoke for this group, I shared the four goals I have for every sermon and with every group.
- I always want to lift up the name of Jesus.
- I want to see someone come to know the Lord.
- I want to encourage believers.
- I promise to not preach an “Oh God Help Me” sermon.
They chuckle when I explain what an “Oh God, help me” sermon is. That’s when the inviting pastor sits on the front row with his head in his hands saying “Oh God, help me” because of some unimaginable thing the speaker said. Then that pastor or host has to take weeks to repair what the speaker demolished in a few minutes.
I learned long ago that reputation precedes everyone. When you spend most of your time speaking in conventions and revival venues, you become identified with those kinds of events and again, while a lot of folks love and enjoy it, I know it’s not everyone preference.
When it comes to preaching, I know where I belong and where I don’t-even as General Overseer. I don’t show up and expect to preach everywhere just because of the position-nor do I want or need to. I honor the vision and visionary of every house and if that vision honors the Lord, then my presence as a speaker or as an attender needs to enhance it.
I honor the vision and visionary of every house and if that vision honors the Lord, then my presence as a speaker or as an attender needs to enhance it.
Respecting The Opportunity
Looking over my years of ministry and considering how I’ve somehow crossed bridges and connected with so many different kinds of groups, I’ve come to understand some important things that helped give me those open doors.
This is what I’ve tried to do:
- Honor the trust of the one who invites me
- Know and respect my audience
- Lift a load, leave a smile and keep a door open for a return visit
- Stay hid behind Jesus and let him shine.
Paul wrote in First Corinthians 9:22-23 “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
Does that mean I compromise the message? Never.
Does that mean I may need adjust my well known and even preferred style of delivery? Sometimes yes.
Am I willing to do it in order to help a church and see someone come to know Jesus better? Absolutely.
Even as a pastor, I knew that everyone in town wasn't going to come to my church. They shouldn’t have. It takes all kinds of churches and all kinds of preachers to spread the Good News. But I operated in my gift where God had placed me and the Holy Spirit used it reached a harvest.
There’s a variety of gifts in the church as well as the kingdom. There is room for all of us and I’m glad. You have a gift and someone, somewhere needs it. Use your particular gift to the glory of God and make it the very best that it can be.
You have a gift and someone, somewhere needs it. Use your particular gift to the glory of God and make it the very best that it can be.
You may not be everyone’s “Cup of Tea” but you are very likely a great cup of coffee and a very special chosen vessel that God has designed for a great purpose.