Should preachers be invisible? I’ve been thinking about this question for the past week.
When I preach I want people to think about, hear, feel, and see Christ. I don’t want them to think, “Wow. That preacher wasn’t as boring as I thought he’d be.” I want them to think, “Wow. That Jesus is even more amazing that I thought he’d be.” But preaching puts a man in an awkward position where he has to capture people’s attention only to redirect their attention to someone else.
It’s a complicated process . . . “Look at me and listen to me, but . . . don’t look at me, look at Jesus, but please keep listening to me, because in listening to me you’re listening to the words of Jesus mixed up with my words, but my words don’t really matter unless they’re from Jesus, so do your best to listen carefully so you can discern which of the words I’m saying are God’s Truth and which are just words that I’m using to point you to God’s Truth. Got it!”
Preachers are kind of like defense attorneys standing next to, defending, and speaking for a person who needs help representing themselves to a jury, but–in the case of preachers and Christ–he is not a sinful human desperate to prove his innocence; he’s Almighty God desperate for us to know that he is the only way to Heaven and eternal life and he doesn’t really need our help, but then . . . in a very real way . . . he does.
I speak for him because he commanded me to (indirectly) when he said,
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19,20)
So, I preach Jesus and try to blend in, but then I hear Paul saying (or should I say “I read Paul writing”?), “Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (I Cor. 4:16) and the writer of Hebrews saying, “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7), and Paul urging a young preacher to not “let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (I Tim 4:12), and I’m really confused because I wonder, “How can you imitate someone who is invisible?”
But then I think about something else Paul wrote and it all seems to make sense: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1).
So, I’m convinced that when I preach I must be invisible, but not void. There’s a difference. If I’m just a void–a large (or skinny) invisible empty space on stage then people who look at me, or in my general direction, will see nothing. Think of it more as transparency. I’m supposed to be–what one of my friends calls–a “transparent vessel.” When people look at me they are not to see nothing; they should see something, or should I say, someone. When I preach people should look my general direction, see through me, and see Christ.
So, with John the baptizer, I must constantly pray, “He must become greater; I must become less”(John 3:30).