No gratuitous intimacy, please.
It is highly debatable that there is ever a time for significant personal self-disclosure from the pulpit but if there is then no one should be left with any doubt about why you needed to tell that story in order to deliver your point. Some people love it, of course, when the preacher gets down and dirty but others climb the walls. So while I think there is a case to be made for occasional public intimacy, it should always be understated so that few could ever say “TMI”.
In congregations, preaching is a relationship. The power and effectiveness of a preacher is cumulative, almost never from a single event. MLK’s “I have a dream” sermon soars in the public memory because of when it was given, everything else leading up to it, and what followed. On its own it is a wonderful sermon but not the transformative moment it became. Likewise, almost nothing we say in the moment is transformative, only the cumulative effect the preacher and the preacher’s muse has over time in relationship with a particular community of people. So if there is something about you and your life your preaching partners (the ‘Hearers’) need to know in order to hear your words more fully, then tell it. But tell it in a way that is not about you, rather, that opens and leads the Hearer into his or her own life.
If your self-disclosure is about you and does not lead the Hearers into their own lives and free them to see and hear what only a moment ago was hidden from them, then it is gratuitous intimacy. It is not about you, never about you. “Down ego, down.”
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