Tag Archives: preaching

vulnerability vs. authenticity

we talk a lot about the need for ministry leaders and speakers to be vulnerable and authentic these days. i’m all for that — 100%.

but some time ago i heard a speaker that caused me to reflect on this a bit, and particularly the fact that the two are not synonymous.

i was sitting in a congregation, listening to a guy preaching. he was a guest speaker, but is apparently someone who speaks once or twice a year at this church. and people seem to love, love, love him. the congregation was amped.

there’s no question the guy was vulnerable. he shared openly about struggles and wrestling. that approach itself can sometimes be a mess — more about the speaker experiencing catharsis (at best) or exhibitionism (at worst). but i didn’t sense this preacher was doing that.

but there was something that was really, deeply bugging me about the sermon (and it wasn’t the content, per se). the preacher occasionally slipped into a funny accent (at least he thought it was funny), used quite a few words pronounced in an strange, super-spritual manner, and utilized other speaking ‘tricks’ to–ultimately–manipulate the listeners to an intended feeling. he told self-revealing stories with an affected performance.

and i realized: i found this completely inauthentic.

i came to a sense that i could barely listen, as the speaker was vulnerable, but inauthentic.

authenticity trumps vulnerability in preaching, imho (and for leadership in general). i’d rather listen to an authentic speaker (or follow an authentic leader) without a ton of vulnerability than the other way around any day. both are great; but vulnerability only helps when it’s a subset of authenticity.

god-given emotions

i preached at the three services of my home church this past weekend, on ‘god-given emotions’.

the backstory: last fall, after i was laid off, i was in full emotional freeze. i could barely feel anything, because the various feelings were just too overwhelming to me. i saw a therapist for a handful of sessions, and that was helpful. but i knew i needed to get away, by myself, and ‘honor’ the emotions, give them room to breathe. so i headed out to a cabin in the california dessert for 6 days of silence. it was a profound time for me, both in processing my stuff, and in re-orienting me for whatever was next. i gave an entire day to each of five emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, fear, and joy. i entered into them — welcomed them — and felt them. then i put words to them (via journalling). particularly since i was in a sparse, holy-feeling dessert, surrounded by nothing but overwhelming silence, it was fairly easy for these entire days to feel like prayer. i also believed, and sometimes i knew, that god was present in that process, and that my journalling was as much of a prayer as any of david’s more emotional psalms.

speaking of david’s emotional psalms — i love how ‘inappropriate’ some of them are. seriously.

anyhow. i’d never intended that journal to be read or heard by anyone, other than my wife. but a few weeks later, the college pastor of my church asked me to preach in the college service (this was early december), and to tell something of the life of a biblical character and how my own story was paralleling that biblical story (that was the series they were in). after wrestling with it for a bit, i realized it would be inauthentic to speak about anything other than david and my emotions, since it was the overwhelming, almost singular, aspect of my story at the time. knowing that it was a group of young adults who would not be freaked out by the rawness of my journal entries, i took a risk and tried something new: i tried to model the point rather than exposit the point. first, a guy shared his own story of being distanced from his emotions for years, and the process of awakening. then, 5 readers read davidic psalms i chose that embodied those five emotions (and they read them with that full emotion in their voices). after each psalm, i read a selection of my journal entry. a shared a few quick thoughts on emotions at the end, how they’re a gift from god, and part of our ‘made in the image of god’-ness, and how attempting to ‘hide’ them from god is a joke, and actually dishonoring to god (since god already knows them).

that sermon, back in early december, seemed to resonate with people, and was helpful to many of them.

but then, when i was slated to preach in ‘big church’, the programming team asked if i would repeat that sermon. i balked. it was too private, too personal. and, all these months later, i wasn’t sure i wanted to go back to those emotions again. but i sensed that i should do it, so i agreed, with three conditions: 1. they would not podcast the sermon (sorry!); 2. the guy who shared his story prior to my sermon would share it again; and 3. the same 5 young adult psalms readers would participate with me again.

so, that’s what i/we did this weekend. i slightly edited my journal entries, taking them from an r-rating to a pg-rating. and i added a new addendum to the whole thing, since my life is very different today than it was 7 months ago.

here’s my post about my time in the dessert, with a few super-mini excerpts from the journal.

and here’s my post from last december when i preached this sermon in our college-age service, with the psalms i selected and other stuff.

here’s the new addendum i added this time around:

An afterword: i went on a silent retreat a few weeks ago, and spent a chunk of time taking stock of my life now — where i’m at compared with where i was last fall. and i experienced an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Not ONE of my fears, expressed in that journal entry, are being realized. I am deeply satisfied in the work God is giving me these days – speaking, writing, consulting with churches and ministries, and coaching youth workers. Amazingly, the bills are being paid, I’m having fun, I’m using my gifts, and I still get to wear shorts and t-shirts to work.

I’m NOT suggesting that everything is always easy. But I’ve come to a deeper understanding that the pattern of hope found in the Bible ALWAYS passes, first, through suffering, longing, and an honest cry to God. My honest and dark journey through difficult emotions has given me a sippy-cup of hope; and I can tell you it is a sweet, sweet nector.

in the end, it was an exhausting but good experience to look back and enter into those emotions again. it was a reminder of the road i’m on. a friend wrote to me recently something like, “it’s great to be able to look back and see that god was orchestrating all of that.” but i don’t see it that way. i certainly don’t want to ‘blame’ god for what i went through. seriously, it would be tough to think that god ‘orchestrated’ all of that! however, it’s clear to me that god was with me; and that god was present; and that god was bringing good out of an otherwise crappy situation.

(photos courtesy of dan matticks)

emotions sermon

ok, so i preached last sunday night at my church’s college-aged service. they’re in a series called “stories”, and i was asked to tell the story of a biblical character that in some way paralleled or had some similarities to some portion of my own story. well, i figured i could tell some witty and succint and super-teachable story from my past; or, i could be honest about what i have been going through these past few months. and, of course, then, i knew anything other than the latter wouldn’t have integrity (at least it wouldn’t feel like it for me).

i did something completely different than i’ve ever done in a sermon before. i had five of david’s more emotional psalms (5 that i chose because they seemed to capture, or be written with, the 5 emotions i wrestled to the ground on my time in the desert). then i interspersed that with selections from my own journal, on those same emotions, which i framed as my own prayer-psalms.

it was also pretty amazing that a guy shared a testimony a bit before i preached about how he’d gone through a few years of completely shutting down his emotions, and then the process he’d gone through to re-engage them. it was pretty stunning stuff, and totally set up where we were headed.

the basic flow was:
– about 10 minutes of set-up, and talking about some of the reasons we have learned to supress or “dishonor” our emotions.
– the bulk was a reading of a psalm (the readers all their psalms with the particular emotion, and they were AMAZING), followed directly by me reading a selection from my emotional journal.
– then i spent another 7 minutes or so at the end offering a couple thoughts.

David and Emotions

Ill: “I’m gonna club the f out of you, mikey” (a time i completely lost control of myself on a golf course and experience true rage, which scared me)

For whatever reason, I’ve always struggled with being in touch with my emotions (or expressing them at all).
– upbringing
– gender
– wrong notions of the person and leader I want to be

my journey, over the last 6 years…

Guys aren’t good with emotions
But, this isn’t just a gender thing – Christians suck at emotions. We’re suspicious of them.

Why? 2 ‘isms:
• the lingering scent of Gnosticism (spirit = good, material = bad)
• the church’s love-affair with modernism (reason = trustworthy, emotion = not trustworthy)
[train illustration]

these are a distortion of how God views emotion.

Story time (here’s where i set up the davidic psalms and my journal, and how we were going to proceed)


Psalm 109 (David is pissed, and calling down curses on someone)

(my journal selection)


Psalm 69 (David is hurt by all the people wrongly maligning him)

(my journal selection)


Psalm 22 (David is lonely and sad – this passage is also one Jesus quotes on the cross)

(my journal selection)


Psalm 56 (David has been captured by the Philistines, and is afraid for his life)

(my journal selection)


Psalm 16 (David expressing happiness)

(my journal selection)

So, what’s the truth about emotion? A few quick thoughts:

1. I think, in the past, I would have tried to build a case for emotions by saying, “God invented emotions, so they must be good.” But I don’t think that’s an accurate reflection of the creation story. God is an emotional being, and we are made in the image of God, so we have emotions.

God didn’t “invent” emotions as a component of creation! God invented us, and made us with emotions, because that’s a key part of what makes us like him!

2. God is not freaked out, disappointed, surprised, or frustrated by our emotions. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. Suppressing our emotions, not giving voice to them, is – in a very real sense – attempting to lie to God and ourselves, something that is contrary to God’s design and desire.
something i found on a blog this week:

In the past, I have tended to restrain my prayers out of respect for God. I am now coming to realize that my in-authenticity is actually an insult, not respect. God knows my heart, and my prayer should not be a facade. If it is, I am only fooling myself.

(i actually skipped this 3rd point, for time)
3. The scriptural caution to us is NOT about having emotions, but about what we do with them. “Be ye angry, and sin not” has lead us to believe that the ONLY valid anger is this thing we’ve made up called “righteous anger.” Whatever. No – Be Angry, express your anger – especially to God; don’t stuff it or bury it. Just be watchful of the actions that flow out of that.

Bottom line: our emotions are a massive gift from God, and learning to be present to them is part of our created design.

Isn’t it totally cool that God gave us emotions? Can you imagine life without them?

a couple pics of my preaching

as i mentioned in an earlier post, i got to preach at my church last weekend. they’re pretty cool to let a slacker like me take the stage a couple times each year. i tried a few new things this time around, from a presentation stand-point. first, i preached in shorts and flip-flops. my church is pretty casual anyhow, and i wear shorts and a t-shirt every sunday. but i found out this was the first time someone had preached in shorts. i’m proud to have broken that barrier! i was preaching on belonging, and felt like it would be great to start with a children’s story about belonging, and chose “the ugly duckling” (which i had to majorly edit, as it’s surprisingly long!). but i thought it would be fun to read it to kids, rather than just reading it to the congregation. so the programming peeps organized a small group of children to come sit on stage at the beginning of each service, and i sat in a rocking chair and read to them. they did great, and i think it was better than the alternative.

here’s a pic of that:

then, i’d seen our high school pastor preach once using this cool clear “whiteboard” that one of the facilities guys made for him. and i wanted to use it! it’s made of plexiglass, and you write on it with bright whiteboard markers. with the lighting right, the stuff on the board is totally legible, but seem to kind of be hanging in space. here’s a pic of me with my three-legged stool (looks kind of like a cow udder!) of adolescent tasks, which i used to set up the contextual need for belonging:

of course, none of this had much to do with my content really! but they were fun little “technologies” to use.