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Tim Keel: Naked in the Pulpit

 

Tim Keel, “Naked in the Pulpit: How my preaching became an act of intimacy” Leadership Journal (Winter 2005).

What a scary thought: being vulnerable to your congregation. Yet, this is the approach that Tim Keel suggests we pastors should take—a valuable suggestion indeed. Too often I find myself being more concerned with the passing of information than I am transferring life change to the people I minister to.

I will never forget the story my new boss and Sr. Minister told of the church he had come from. There was a Sunday school teacher who had taught for over a decade at the church who finally came to realize—after a convicting sermon—that his primary role in that class was not the passing of information. Discipleship was about growth, it was about change. This was life transformation using the avenue of information for the greater purpose of being different for and by Jesus Christ.

Keel says, “For me preaching has become an integrated, intimate behavior, far more than just an exercise of transferring information to other people’s heads.”

“Just transferring” information is a common trap for us to fall into as preachers. Perhaps we have set the trap by allowing ourselves to be immersed in our consumer culture. Keel reminds us how to express the information about God and the Christian life in the balance of how we live our lives. “Preaching is an act of intimacy because it is the unfolding publicly of Christ in me.”

A good illustration to help us understand the danger of passing information without being changed by that information is to look at two people groups who spent time with Jesus.

“The legalism of the Pharisees was the simple but dangerous activity of crowding out their own ability to respond to the God of the universe who was standing before them in tangible form. That happens to us pastors today.”

The Pharisees: These guys just did not get it, or at least not most of them. It is amazing to me that they had complete access to God in human form just like the disciples. They ran into Jesus quite often. They tested him, they were silenced by his answers. You would think they had enough time to develop a real relationship with God by watching God in the flesh. But that was not the case. It is amazing how much we struggle in the same ways. I think the Pharisees did just what Keel says we pastors struggle with.

“I have a structured mind, so I tend to think in outlines. But the more I do outlining, the more I find I’m over-killing my sermon. I can crowd out my ability to respond to God or to the people before me.”

The legalism of the Pharisees was the simple but dangerous activity of crowding out their own ability to respond to the God of the universe who was standing before them in tangible form. That happens to us pastors today, too. Too often we are focused on the passing of information and we miss the opportunities ourselves to connect with God, and therefore fail to pass on life change to the very people we minister to.

The Disciples: These guys got it. Well, there were many times they struggled to get it but that is how an authentic relationship works. The disciples experienced Jesus Christ in a fresh way. They ate with him. They talked with him. He rescued them from the scary forces of nature. They believed in him. They performed miracles in His name. They even died for him. What a difference.

Knowledge is scary stuff. “Naked in the Pulpit” is a valuable reminder to us pastors to use the knowledge in the Word to change lives. It is not good enough just to throw knowledge out into the air, like many of the Pharisees, who often cared more about doctrine and appearance.

Too much of an emphasis on information and preparation will keep us from being honest about how God has changed us. The end result is an ineffective Christianity. If we do not practice “Naked in the Pulpit” we will become like those today who, to the letter of the law, can provide exhaustive Scriptural support for whether or not the Trinity really is biblical yet cannot seem to offer anyone a cup of cold water in Jesus name. Knowledge alone is dangerous.

As Keel states knowledge needs to be mixed with the meditating, reflecting, and the living out of God’s Word. Being naked in the pulpit will enable us to do that more effectively. This is simply what the Apostles did throughout the book of Acts. They allowed the Holy Spirit to move them. They had no 3-point sermon. They did not spew fact and law to justify behavior. They talked and lived a public life changed by Jesus Christ. That is what we must do.

Reviewed by John Datema

 

At the time of this writing, “Naked in the Pulpit” was accessible online: http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2005/001/1.78.html

 

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Category: Ministry, Summer 2005

About the Author: John Datema, is Family Life Minister at Meridian Christian Church in Lansing, Michigan. With many years of experience in pastoral ministry and education, he enjoys combining his technological background to develop resources and opportunities to help families thrive.

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