Stay Off the Stage!

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If you love good preaching the Pastoral Evangelism and Leadership Council (PELC), is the place to be.

The training is excellent, the music is superb, the fellowship is fantastic, but the preaching is amazing. For 38 years preachers like Charles Brooks, Charles Adams, Gardner Taylor and Walter Pearson have blessed us. And recently William Curtis, Myron Edmonds, Lance Watson, Wesley Knight, Rudolph McKissick and others have set the place on fire.

This year, December 3-6, will be no exception with Freddie Haynes, Keith Morris, Roger Bernard, Gina Spivey Brown, Debleaire Snell, Cedric Belcher and Claybon Lea. And the young bucks, Dewaine Frazer and Ricardo Delahaye are going to light up the 5pm service. Which leads me to my subject.

Our 5pm service is in Moseley Chapel. We highlight our newer generation there. The creativity is striking, and the energy is high. Now, traditional black preaching is a dialogue. At PELC, when we’re not preaching, we’re generally “helping the preacher” preach. Last year the preachers were a little too helpful for some when they literally came on the platform to “help the preacher.” Of course I wouldn’t dare mention the name of the preacher who caused the most “trouble” in the Moseley Chapel…Gamal Alexander.

Now I gotta be honest. I loved it. Maybe not the brothers blocking my view on the platform, but the preaching and the response. I love the fact that worshippers at our services are comfortable enough to shout for joy or openly weep at the altar. I love the fact that every year the poinsettias in our evening services get taller and taller. (Inside joke. Ask a PELC pastor.)

PELC is primarily a pastor’s conference. Pastors are a strange breed with an impossible job. They come to PELC not only for continuing education, but also for encouragement and fellowship, and frankly…hope. The magnitude of it all often comes to a head in the preaching services, which at times are as much therapeutic as they are spiritual. The 5pm service is particularly suited for those dynamics. It’s more intimate. It’s more informal. It’s more personal.

But to be sure, you can have too much of a good thing. And it’s generally not ok to come on the actual platform while the preacher is preaching. To be clear, I’m not speaking of platform participants but people coming up from the audience. Let me give you 3 reasons to stay off the stage.

It can be unsafe.

No one enjoys preaching more than me. I’m regularly attending services and conferences across the denominational spectrum. I love all genres and styles but I have a particular love for traditional black preaching. It’s not uncommon in many black services for people to be on their feet, hands lifted, voices raised, and consciously or unconsciously moving toward the preacher. But to actually mount the platform is unwise and unsafe.

Think about it. I can just envision some anointed but nervous preacher running for his life at the site of oncoming preachers rushing the stage. I can also see another problem. Some preachers, deacons and security personnel are packing more than Bibles these days. If you run up on the wrong one you might get more than a holy hug.

It can be a distraction.

One of the strengths of black worship services is that they are not monolithic. Meaning, some are conservative, some are liberal. Some are traditional, some are contemporary. Some are emotional, some are cerebral.

The same can be said of the people who attend black worship services, including preachers. It’s our responsibility to consider not only our own needs but also the needs of those around us. Multiple preachers on the platform can be a physical or mental distraction.

It can misrepresent preaching.

Preaching is not performance art. We should be careful not to signal that it is. It’s much deeper than that. Preaching is central to the worship service. And the primary audience in worship is not sitting in front of us but above us. Now don’t get it twisted. We should absolutely expect to be engaged and blessed by the sermon and the service. (Ephesians 5:19) But we should be mindful of the dynamics, expectations and responsibilities of the preaching moment.

Now, I recognize that I’m walking on very subjective ground here. One man’s “too much” is another man’s “too little.” What works in one setting, is inappropriate in another. And I’m a strong advocate for walking, waving, weeping, standing and shouting as appropriate worship expressions in the right context. If anything we have too little Spirit-inspired emotion in our worship services, not too much.

But what I am saying is that there are limits. There are considerations. There are boundaries. Celebration should stop at the floor.

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