One of the contrasts between our nonconformist worship and that in churches which follow a liturgy lies in the central role of the preacher. In many Anglican churches, for example, the liturgy is followed and punctuated by an ‘address’ which is often brief and insubstantial. In traditional Methodism and Congregationalism the service led up to the sermon and the centrality of the sermon was at its heart. Then the spotlight turned, even more strongly, on to the preacher – ministerial or lay. Would there be something memorable or something which caused hardly a ripple? I can still vividly recall my worshipping days at City Temple. When Leslie Weatherhead climbed to the pulpit there was an almost physical excitement across the congregation. He never disappointed!
Preachers come, as we all well know, in all ‘shapes and sizes’! Some are orators. others are low key. Some are theologians, or scholars, or teachers, or philosophers. or politicians who speak lines but allow us to read between those lines. Some conform rigidly to established norms and doctrine, others push at the boundaries. Some are traditionalists, others are innovators. Some challenge and provoke thought, others comfort and reassure. Some fill the pews, others thin them out. Some welcome comment afterwards, even disagreement, others are irritated by it. Some devise services of peerless beauty, others prefer to be almost homely and even self-deprecatory. All are predictable. See a name on the Plan and we know what to expect! Even those preachers who protest that the service is not ‘theirs’ then (quite rightly) stamp their own style and vision on every service they conduct!
To my mind (and as always I could be wrong) this is what makes our nonconformist worship exciting and meaningful. We gain from hearing men and women with different qualities and insights who can gather up our thoughts and feelings and lift us to the heights. There is no right or wrong way, only different ways.
Read, if you will, Hymns and Psalms 158. Samuel Greg’s verses perhaps say much. Therein lies a blueprint perhaps? So never let us forget the responsibility we rest on the shoulders of our preachers. I once met a preacher who told me “when I step down from the pulpit, I am drained. I have poured my whole self into the service and my sermon. I am spent!”
As always I ask YOU a question! What do YOU expect from a preacher?
This article was first published in the January 2016 issue of Look-In, our monthly church magazine. To download the full issue, please click here: Look-In – January 2016