The Biggest Problem Preachers and Teachers Face
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Terry Vine
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. (John 1:18)
“Let’s see now. How shall I put this?”
That’s our problem.
Try this sometime. You have an image in mind of a person you have thought up. Now, find someone with some art ability and describe your creation to the point that they sketch him/her exactly as you envision them.
Good luck with that.
It’s almost impossible to illustrate someone else's vision of a story.
And yet, this process goes on all the time. Here’s the way it works…
A friend contacts me. “Will you illustrate my book?” I hem and haw, give non-answers, such as: “Well, tell me what you have in mind,” or, “What exactly do you need?” or “When do you need it?” or “How many drawings will it be?" and look for ways—true confession—to get out of doing it.
Tackling such an assignment is guaranteed to age you prematurely, disappoint the other party, and leave everyone frustrated and exhausted.
The author and I were in the process of going back and forth with her descriptions and my attempts to capture them on paper, like a bad tennis match. It happens with practically every writer who asks someone to illustrate her book. She begins by promising this is going to be simple. ‘Just draw me a warrior holding a sword.’ Then, she looks at my sketch and wants him just a little taller. I make him taller.
Next, "Could you put a scowl on his face and not make him look so nice? Oh, and could we change his clothes? And put armor on him. Brown hair. Green eyes. And did I say he’s wearing a cape?”
Multiply that times the number of characters the writer wants drawn—and you see in a heartbeat the difficulty.
Sometimes when I’m sketching people at a public event, someone will say, “You could get a job working for the police.”
Nope. Not in a zillion years. I respond, “It’s hard enough drawing when I’m looking at you. But imagine when all you have is the memory of someone talking to you and trying to get that on paper. No thanks.”
I do admire those who can pull that off. I am not one of them.
Preachers and teachers face a similar challenge.
They have a mental image of some event, some truth, some lesson, some reality which they want to transfer and implant into the brains and hearts of the hearers. To do this, they employ several tools…
1. The speakers use words. Words are amazing things: sounds we make from a combination of breath and larynx and mouth, which we have agreed will mean something or other. After all, someone in the distant past decided that this grunt would stand for that thing, two grunts that other thing, and so forth. The creation of language was an amazing thing.
2. The speakers work hard to find the perfect words and to arrange them into easy-to-follow presentations, perhaps using stories or word-pictures. When the speaker says, “Let me tell you a story,” the hearers tend to perk up and give their undivided attention. If the story is well-chosen and its placement is ideal, he/she can achieve something amazing with those words.
3. The speakers count on the active participation of the hearers. Unless members of the congregation or audience decide to meet you halfway, this is not going to work. Pity the schoolteacher whose class meets just after lunch. Everyone, including her, would prefer to be taking a nap. Talk about an uphill job!
4. Those teaching and preaching God’s message count on an additional Helper: the Holy Spirit. Ideally, He prepares the hearts and minds of the hearers, anoints the words of the speaker, and then performs a kind of divine alchemy inside the listeners during the delivery and reception of the message. It’s pretty wonderful, and something pastors count on heavily. Many a preacher has found himself saying in a panic, moments before the worship service begins, “Help, Lord! If you’re not going to bless this today, I’m in big trouble!” Indeed he is.
The Lord God had the same problem, incidentally—how to convey His message to earthlings in an unforgettable, workable way
I’m certain you know what He did. He used a Word.
Here is how the Apostle John put it…
In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God…the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, John 1:14)
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life….what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you may have fellowship with us… (1 John 1:1,1 John 1:3).
God in Heaven—the Author of it all—put His message in a Person whom He called “The Word” and sent that One to earth so people could see and hear and touch, and believe.
Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
We get the Message, Lord.
There is a sense in which we earthlings are reproducing Jesus in this world. Or, to be more exact, the Holy Spirit is producing Christlike people in this world. The Apostle Paul said, “But we all…are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
We shrink from making such a statement, but there is a sense in which we ought to be able to say to people, “You want to see God? (or Jesus?) Look at me.” And also, “Look at him.” Or her.
That is actually the plan, in a manner of speaking. (We must not press this metaphor too hard, because nothing the Spirit will do in you or me in this life will detract from the unique thing He has done in Jesus Christ. All our Christlikeness should simply point others to Jesus.)
It’s an odd thing. The more like Jesus Christ I become in this world, the more I become my authentic self, and less a clone of anyone or a copy or reproduction of anything.
Those who fear coming to Jesus because they don’t want to lose their uniqueness and become a clone of some Christian whom they dislike need not to worry. That is not going to happen.
He will make you into the person He had in mind from the beginning. And that’s a pretty wonderful thing, incidentally.
“Dear Lord, let Your divine Image be seen in this world in my life, through my words and deeds and mannerisms. May people believe in Jesus because of me, as far-fetched as that may seem. For Thy glory. Amen.”
Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.