Position in preaching is an important matter about which all too little is said—and yet it can make all the difference. What am I talking about? What is ‘position’ anyway?
Position represents a preacher’s relationship to a passage as well as to the persons who are involved with it. With whom does one identify as preacher, and with whom does he identify his congregation? The answer to those two questions tells one what his position is.
There are several possible positions that one might assume. Various names may be assigned to each, and possibly more than the three that I shall mention might be distinguished, but in order to raise the question and to point toward the desired biblical position of the preacher these three will do:
- The loving, learning SPECTATOR
- The faithful, listening RECIPIENT
- The ordained, sent HERALD
There clusters about each of these positions a number of factors that are consistent with the position itself. Take the SPECTATOR, for instance. Such a preacher doesn’t identify with any one particular in the preaching portion. He does not speak as does the writer of the epistle or as the preacher in the gospel; he is an outsider who is looking in on what is happening and who sees his task as enabling the congregation to look in along with him. He is, in effect, the cameraman, whose sole job is to paint the picture for the viewer. As such, for instance, he looks in on the events of the text to view Jesus at work in His redemptive-historical tasks. Largely he speaks in third person language. His prevailing response, and that of his congregation, is worship, awe, gratitude. His temptation is to be merely a listener, a viewer, a spectator. There is little that is ethical or doctrinal about his preaching. The preacher who is most likely to take this position is the biblically-theologically oriented preacher.
Then there is the RECIPIENT. This preacher stands in the crowd, along with the congregation or the individual receiving the letter, book, or message in the preaching portion. He identifies himself with those receiving truth or an exhortation or rebuke. In the gospel he identifies not with Jesus but with the crowds or Nicodemus or the man born blind, and he puts his congregation as well as himself in the same position. Whereas the spectator uses “they, he, she,” the recipient’s favorite preaching pronoun is “we.” He is no bystander, as the first preacher tends to be; he is a participant, faithfully hearing Christ’s Word to him and to his congregation, feeling its impact in his life and going out to do it. Though some ‘expository’ preachers may identify most closely with the spectator position, most would be lured into identifying with the recipient.
In contrast to the other two, the HERALD assumes a position of authority (conferred, not inherent) and exercises it in the name of the One Who sent him. He stands with Christ and the biblical writers and preachers, speaking to the congregation in the name of God and with His message and authority. He identifies with the messenger in the passage, so his favorite pronoun is “you.” This position encompasses the other two as well; the benefits of the other two positions are his and are conveyed to the congregation as well. However, he assumes the other two positions in the study and not in the pulpit. As he studies the Scripture he wants to look in, in order to be struck by the greatness of the redemption that is in Christ; and when he is, he will prepare and preach differently than if he had not been. In the study he also wants to identify with those receiving the message, so that he may experience its benefits in his own life. That too will affect how he prepares and preaches his message when he gets into the pulpit. But when he stands before the congregation, he is neither recipient nor spectator; he is an ambassador of Christ, a herald of the good news. As such, he says to his congregation (whom he views as participating observers, required to be hearers as well as doers of the Word), “Thus says the Lord!”
How do you preach? Throughout the previous articles on preaching I have stressed the need for a preaching rather than a lecturing stance, and a focus on the Holy Spirit’s telos, or purpose, in the preaching portion. Such emphases are consistent only with the third position. The herald preaches not about the Bible, or about the Amalekites or Paul, but from the Bible, about the congregation present and about God. He is not a mere onlooker or one who enables others to see what happened long ago and far away. Nor is he concerned with interpretation and meaning as ends in themselves. He is one who believes that Scripture was recorded for the admonition of his congregation and that, as he proclaims it to his people, God still deigns to effect changes in the thoughts and lives of His congregation. As a herald of the Spirit’s Word, he views true preaching as an occasion during which God and His people meet in the Word.