A church in Colorado recently posted a job listing that created a buzz.
They were searching for a preacher who would memorize and repeat sermons preached by famous communicators, such as Steven Furtick. When you listen to certain preachers, they argued, you “feel like you were fed.” So why not try to replicate their preaching?
While their proposal is unorthodox, it’s simply the logical (if extreme) outworking of an assumption that permeates many churches today. Namely, that what a church primarily needs from their pastor is a certain communication style.
And it is an assumption to which church-planting pastors are particularly susceptible.
Danger of Comparison
As we battle the insecurity that so often accompanies church planting, it’s almost impossible not to compare ourselves to other preachers and their successes (or, at least, perceived successes).
Almost daily we’re exposed to the preaching “greats,” whether by podcast or sermon clips on social media, and we can’t help but evaluate our latest offering in light of those we hear online. We want to listen to be edified, but sometimes we just end up discouraged.
As we battle the insecurity that so often accompanies church planting, it’s almost impossible not to compare ourselves to other preachers and their successes.
Then we begin to believe the lie that led to the job listing: in order to be good, you need to preach like “that guy.” His effectiveness must lie in his cadence or charisma, we assume—certain speech patterns or mannerisms that naturally yield a desired outcome.
I need to be funnier, like he is . . . I should show more passion, like he does . . . I really ought to [fill in the blank].
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with laboring to develop as a preacher; and as church planters, preaching development must remain a priority. And part of this development includes learning from others, especially those whom God has gifted. But learning does not entail mimicking.
Trying to parrot other preachers undermines both our faithfulness to and effectiveness in the pulpit. So here are two encouragements to remember when the temptation to parrot arises.
1. Preaching is not less than communicating. But it is more.
Simply developing as a communicator does not mean you’ll develop as a preacher. To be sure, preaching is not less than communicating, but it is far more. As Paul explained to the church in Corinth:
When I came to you . . . I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom . . . and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest on the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1–5)
Paul was not opposed to using effective rhetoric and persuasive language (Acts 17). So when he says he didn’t preach with “plausible words of wisdom,” he doesn’t mean his preaching lacked these things altogether, but that it lacked the kind of persuasion used by the sophists and rhetoricians of the day—the kind where the power lies within the person and his delivery.
The desire to mirror another’s teaching style arises from the false assumption that effectiveness comes primarily from style, not from the Spirit.
2. God has given your flock to you. Not someone else.
I once heard Matt Chandler encourage a roomful of church-planting pastors to stop trying to be Tim Keller. For one, he said, you aren’t smart enough. But more importantly, if God wanted Tim Keller to pastor your church, then he would’ve had Tim Keller pastor your church.
The New Testament is clear: God desires to see the truth of his Word proclaimed primarily through local-church preaching. Which means that when God entrusts the pastorate to us, he entrusts the pulpit to us.
When God entrusts the pastorate to us, he entrusts the pulpit to us.
Naturally, that can be hard to believe. But as pastors, do we not regularly encourage others that God has placed them in their spheres of influence—neighborhoods, places of work, and so on—for a specific purpose? We have to believe the same applies to us.
In his infinite wisdom, God has chosen you to shepherd your church. If he wanted someone else, he’d have called someone else.
Mature, Don’t Mimic
Continuing to learn and grow as a preacher is vital. There may be times, though, when you’re tempted to blur the line between learning and mimicking. Perhaps it’s when you’re wondering if more people are ever going to come to your church, or when you’re inundated with social-media highlight reels from other churches and preachers. Perhaps it’s when you’re just not sure you’ve “got what it takes.”
Brother, it’s precisely in those moments that you must fight the lies and cling to the truth: God abandoned neither his sovereignty nor his goodness when he called you to plant—and preach to—your church.
So preach knowing that God is sovereign. Preach knowing that his Spirit empowers you. And, most importantly, preach with the assurance that your worth is found not in your sermons, but in the finished work of your Savior—the One you have the privilege of exalting week in and week out.