The Loyalty in and Purpose of Preaching

By now, many of you have heard about the inflammatory statement Pastor Jamal Bryant made in a recent sermon entitled “I Am My Enemy’s Worst Nightmare.” Bryant, dressed in an electric-blue suit coat, yelled “THESE H*ES AIN’T LOYAL,” a popular Rap lyric from singer Chris Brown to his congregation during the sermon about Pontius Pilate and his wife’s premonition about crucifying Jesus. Now, if you find difficulty making the connection between “disloyal h*es” and Pilate’s wife, you’re not alone. There’s not enough space or time to really explore the context of the scripture or his comment, but what there is time for is to talk about the loyalty in and purpose of preaching.

Before the influx of social media, preachers had to have a literal platform – a storefront church, a borrowed pulpit, a makeshift theater, a lived-in basement, some form of physical location for the Word of God to go forth. Technology has eradicated the need for a physical platform, making the preaching moment a virtual one where people all over the world can participate in the going forth of the Gospel.

This has presented, however, a challenge in authenticating the voice and role of preaching as the influx of social media and influence of popular culture has removed the need for traditional validation and divine vocational call. It is the inundation people who have taken up the role of “preacher” simply because there is new “real estate” for them to preach without counting the cost.

It is the push to be relevant, known, have the most followers or retweets that has removed the sacredness of the preaching moment and turned it into a 140-character preach-off. Many young preachers find themselves using popular culture as a catalyst for “viral” exposure, maybe with the good intentions to increase their platform to spread the Gospel. But what it does, however, is push the preacher’s personality and viral moment past the Gospel, overshadowing the richness of the preaching moment.

Preaching, as defined by Isaac Rufus Clark, is a “divine activity wherein the Word of God is proclaimed or announced on a contemporary issue with an ultimate response to our God.”[i]

While the aforementioned definition presents a specific concern for modern preaching, I argue what Clark says Black preaching in particular should do: the liberative power of preaching becomes the marker of good preaching.

Today’s preacher finds difficulty in offering liberation to those who listen as the personal agenda of s/he who proselytizes does not “[get] at the deep, fundamental, serious questions of life that people are concerned about.”[ii] The role of liberation, then, gets lost in the preacher’s inability to know the “what” and do the “why” and “how” of preaching, the part that gets the root of the deep human and theological questions with which the congregants and communities wrestle.

In layman’s terms: preaching like Pastor Bryant’s is shallow.  Nothing in his sermon answered any “deep, fundamental, serious questions of life that people are concerned about.” The sermon pushed around all-too-familiar pulpit clichés that get the people riled up but offer no sustainable solutions. If anything, they exasperated deeply rooted, oppressive ideas about Black men, Black women, sexuality, relationships, and God.

The problem with Pastor Bryant actually goes beyond the ill-placed use of a misogynistic Rap lyric. The issue lies in Bryant’s inability to do what preachers are called to do: liberate people.

He berates homosexuals and presupposes that one of the reasons the Black community and church is crumbling is because of the inundation of “sanctified sissies.” He surmises that the women in his congregation (and subsequently the women who watched the sermon online or elsewhere) needed, desired, and required a man in order to feel complete or to fully experience God’s best for their lives. He jumps from one social issue to the another, and while condemning the “neo-pentacostal” church for being too emotional (and in turn “unsaved”), manipulates a congregation made mostly of women through emotional rhetoric full of what I believe to be his own unresolved issues with “ho*s” and “loyalty.”

The question remains: Does Pastor Bryant’s preaching do what homiletic scholar Isaac Rufus Clark defines as preaching? Does he in fact push people towards an “ultimate response to our God?” Or, does he make an even greater argument against Christianity?

I’d venture to say that he did the latter. It all hit home for me when a Black professor, writer, and social commentator I genuinely respect posted: “Watched that Jamal Bryant clip. Reminded me of why I’m happy to be atheist.”

This, then, isn’t an issue of this person’s (or anyone’s) religious choices. It’s an issue of how the Church and Christians alike make the Gospel a running joke and laughingstock for many to meme, tweet, and Facebook about.

Preaching isn’t about shock value or personal agendas that get you on a Hip-Hop station’s rumor report. It’s not about trying to keep people bound to narrow-minded ideals, restrictive, oppressive practices, or a disjointed understanding of God rooted in your own insecurities and misplaced priorities.

Preaching, in fact, is not about the preacher. It never is — and if you listen to or follow a preacher who only preaches for quick soundbites and shock-value, s/he’s not a preacher at all.

Preachers are to be loyal to their craft because the role of preacher is about meeting people in the midst of their humanity and offering hope. The purpose of preaching is not rooted in someone’s voracious need to be accepted by their pulpiteering peers but about the people.

Preaching is the oral declaration of God’s word to help people get free… from whatever. It’s not supposed to shame or be divisive — though it should convict. It should push us to think and to ponder the ways in which we engage with one another and ourselves. Bryant may have been pushing the envelope with his statement for that very purpose, to help people get the point. But when our tactics and personalities overshadow Jesus,  then we miss the mark.

Preaching in a 21st century context does present a set of challenges: how does one marry both the sacred and the secular to make conversations about faith and culture relevant? There are varying opinions about what is an acceptable use of popular culture in the Church and many argue about what is reasonable and what is off-limits in the pulpit. What I find, however, is that a preacher whose purpose is to use the Gospel to draw people closer to God should present their words in a way that God’s liberating message never has to take a backseat to what a preacher’s is saying. If what one has to say diverts attention away from God and toward wo/man, then we do a disservice to the craft and purpose of preaching.

A preacher who is aware of the concerns of the community at large knows when to offer both the spiritual and natural needs to quench their proverbial thirsts.  Author Stephen Reid puts it this way: “The challenge, therefore, is to decide when do people need water that will quench their thirst and when do they need Jesus, the living water?”[iii] The same tools that stand in the way of sound doctrinal preaching are the same that lift and elevate the Kingdom of God – it simply boils down to intent. “We are speaking God’s word, not ours,”[iv] a resounding reminder of how we temper the walk between the ethics of preaching for a 21 century context.

Maybe Bryant hasn’t learned how to quench the literal and proverbial thirsts of the people yet — it’s a skill that takes practice (and is not a reflection of “years  of experience”). The loyalty in and purpose of preaching rests in the crux of divine responsibility and human liberation. Anything else is simply just a viral fifteen seconds on Instagram.

On the Chase,

Alisha L.

 

 

            [i] Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, “Introduction.” Teaching Preaching: Isaac Rufus Clark and Black Sacred Rhetoric. (New York: Continuum Publishing Group, 2007), 55.
            [ii] Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, “Introduction.” Teaching Preaching: Isaac Rufus Clark and Black Sacred Rhetoric. (New York: Continuum Publishing Group, 2007), 19.

[iii] Stephen Reid and Lucy Lind Hogan, “The Panderer.” The Six Deadly Sins of Preaching. (Nashville: Abdingdon Press, 2012), 63.

            [iv] Fry-Brown, Teresa. “Introduction to Preaching.” Lecture, Introduction to Preaching 501 Candler School of Theology, Atlanta, GA, January 21, 2014.

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18 thoughts on “The Loyalty in and Purpose of Preaching

  1. Donta Morrison says:

    This was an excellent read! I appreciate the manner in which you used actual study to express your points. It was a candid expose about the true purpose of a preacher. A refreshing and much needed reminder.

  2. Senita says:

    Interesting. I find it difficult to distinguish the truth from your opinion. Are you sharing the purpose of preaching or highlighting your dislike of (or disappointment in) Pastor Bryant? Or are you using Pastor Bryant to exemplify your idea of lack of loyalty and shallow preaching? Clearly you were offended by the sermon, but what point are you trying to prove in this article?

      • Harrison says:

        I agree with your examination of this screed passing as a sermon. Preaching uplifts, excites and recharges the spirit for what we as people of faith confront. There is n o useful purpose in shame preaching, Jesus did not do it, a refresher course might be the solution and yet reveal truth: Love one another as I have loved you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Mr. Williams says:

    Although I enjoy the perspective, I also find this article to be a bit biased in its interpretation of Dr. Bryant’s message. The first false claim I found suggested that using pop culture references in an attempt to be relevant is a new phenomenon. Pastors since the beginning of time have used references to pop culture in the black church. From Mac King Carter to E. Dewey Smith we’ve heard them for years. To state that young preachers are doing these things to find relevance suggests that all of them have the same motive that was also shared by many historic black theologians.

    Secondly, his word usage for “shock value.” See: Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Jeremiah Wright, Jasper Williams, and 98 percent of black preachers. Shock value by itself, is of no use. However, coupled with life principle and application is necessary. The world is being bold and the church criticizes those who speak boldly (mainly due to their success).

    Finally, the issue of whether Dr. Bryant’s preaching is liberating. The sermon that is posted for the public to view is only part 1 of a 2 part video. Therefore, it is improper to determine the whole of something based of a part of something. Even in the analysis of the whole, the 1st step in recovery is admitting there is a problem. Harriet Tubman penned the statement “I could have freed more slaves If they knew they were slaves.” Pointing the finger at the social issues of our time is the first step in liberating our people. “To sing about freedom and to pray for its coming is not enough. Freedom must be actualized in history by oppressed peoples who accept the intellectual challenge to analyze the world for the purpose of changing it.”- James Cone. Who are we to judge what liberates people? Liberation is a matter of perspective. It is hard to see good in a lens that already perceives it to be bad.

    I listened to the nearly 30 minute portion of the sermon and felt honored to see a mega church Pastor addressing the issues of the black family head on. The truth can never be “oppressive” and if his statistics about the state of black were considered false then we are seriously blind. Our ears went to the comment on hoes but did not appreciate the fact that a Pastor who previously messed up openly rebuked men for finding comfort in the arms of anyone other than their wives.

    This article was clearly written by a writer who was already not fond of Pastor Bryant. I have never been a big fan of Dr.Bryant’s preaching. Historically, it was too rooted in the prospect of prosperity and not in addressing the Ills of our people and community and left much to be desired as far as sound biblical exegesis & application. This one time I think he actual hit the nail on the head. I clearly understood his exegesis of the text(his hoe comment was not part of it).

    Great information in this article on the purpose of preaching but, biased and skewed on Dr. Bryant’s ability to fulfill said purpose.

    • Alisha L. Gordon says:

      There’s so much here — both our biases, varying opinions, interpretations, and understandings. I really appreciate you taking the time to read the article and your thorough commentary!

      Thanks!

  4. Erwin Scofield says:

    This article is a great start to a conversation on the subject of the loyalty in and of preaching. I enjoyed so much of it, except that it got a bit sharp on the preacher. I agree with most of it, and hope you will continuing lifting your voice in quality subjects like this one. But, I will say that the conversation should escalate to minister’s conferences where preachers gather for encouragement and insight. An some of the points you make should be incorporated to guide the conversation.

    • Alisha L. Gordon says:

      Thanks, Erwin! You know, in hindsight, I could have directed the attention away from Bryant because in the grand scheme of things, it’s not about him. It’s about a bigger conversation about the art of preaching and the purpose it serves in a modern context. Thanks for pushing back on that critique!

      I appreciate you!
      –Alisha

  5. Cory says:

    Focusing in on the video at 18:03 you will find that the H*e that Pastor Bryant is referring to is not Pilate’s wife but Pilate himself. He refers to Pilates lack of loyalty by not listening to the divinely inspired advice of his wife and choosing to wash his hands of the whole Jesus situation.

    • Cory says:

      This point can be factualized when he said at 18:13

      “Every sister just elbow another sister and say he should have listened…every bother would you tap another brother and say I should have listened to her.”

      He prefaced the elderly listeners and spoke to those that may understand his pop reference.

  6. goldenblaze1922 says:

    This blog entry was spot on! Thank you for showing your intelligence instead of falling prey to the ignorance surrounding the Jamal Bryant foolishness. We have enough churchanity preachers. We need some REAL Pastors.

  7. REPOST says:

    Once again, we as the Body of Christ are being confronted with the ETHICS of SPIRITUAL LEADERS. After praying about this intensively, I’ve come to the awful conclusion that the “CHURCH” has become so COMPROMISED that we hardly deserve to be called “CHRISTIANS” which means CHRIST LIKE! After hearing how GREAT the MESSAGE was, I was doubly APPALLED at the lack of OUTRAGE. To call this 40 SECOND INSERTION of a GUTTER STREET TERM for PROSTITUTE, RELEVANT or CONTEMPORARY is horribly DISRESPECTFUL to the PROPHETIC TRADITION of GOSPEL PREACHING. Furthermore, the SONG to which this 40 SECOND CLIP owes its TITLE, is so VULGAR, I am CONFUSED how a “MAN OF GOD” could even LISTEN to such FOOLISHNESS and even MORE CONFUSED how such FILTH could POSSIBLY find its way, into the context of a GOSPEL SERMON.

    The need to VIOLATE the INTEGRITY of the GOSPEL for SHOCK VALUE has become so pervasive, the average Church Goer, has NO IDEA what the REAL GOSPEL is. PREACHERS are NOT stand up comics! We do not have the LIBERTY, to use VULGAR, PROFANE LANGUAGE to persuade people into “LIKING” our messages. The PROPHETIC TRADITION of PREACHING demands that we PROCLAIM, DECREE and DEMONSTRATE the KINGDOM OF GOD, with POWER. The FUNCTION of PREACHING is to cause men everywhere to REPENT FROM SIN, DRAW CLOSER TO GOD, MATURE IN THE SPIRIT, BEAR THE FRUIT OF REPENTANCE, and to be LOYAL TO GOD. The fallacy that we can SAY WHATEVER, is a complete, bald faced LIE!!! The GOSPEL when PREACHED and DEMONSTRATED is the POWER OF GOD unto SALVATION. Since CHRIS BROWN didn’t DIE for anyone’s sins and is still BOUND by SIN himself, HIS MUSIC nor LYRICS have ANY PLACE in the SACRED FUNCTION of DECLARING GOD’S HEART to a GENERATION.

    DISCRETION IS THE BETTER PART OF VALOR!! If you have to QUESTION IT, and it CAUSES CONFUSION can it be of GOD? The PULPIT is NO PLACE for MEN to PROMOTE their PERSONAL VIEWPOINTS. As GOSPEL PREACHERS, we are CALLED BY GOD, through REVERENCE, to proclaim GOD’S HEART and MIND to HIS PEOPLE. There are 66 BOOKS IN THE BIBLE. Surely there is enough material to preach within those sacred pages for the next 1000 years.

    LASTLY, If I VOMIT or SPIT in a bowl of OATMEAL, is the OATMEAL WORTH EATING? If your entire message was SENT FROM GOD, that’s what you should have stuck with. Unfortunately your VOMIT/SPIT insertion RUINED what COULD HAVE BEEN a life changing message, that has now become MORE MEDIA FODDER to FURTHER DISCREDIT our ASSIGNMENT to DECLARE JESUS to the WORLD. THANKS. SMH ADR

    PS: I would Post scriptures but OBVIOUSLY, SCRIPTURE is IRRELEVANT to the “CHURCH” who APPLAUD, PROMOTE, and DEFEND this MADNESS!!

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