“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”
-1 Cor 14:18-19
When I first started seeing clients in my training to become a marriage and family therapist one of my main goals was to get my clients to cry. What better way was there, I thought, to determine that I had connected with them on an emotional level?! Their tears were evidence that I was doing my job. And boy, did I do my job well in those early weeks!
Similarly, when I first started preaching, whenever someone cried in response to my preaching I felt I was doing a good job. Even though I was certainly not trying to elicit a tearful response to my preaching, I still found that I measured the quality of my preaching based on the immediate emotional response of those listening. If someone cried, it was a good sermon. If no one cried, it was not.
The Apostle Paul, in his letters to the Corinthian church, speaks frequently about the proper use of spiritual gifts at the assembly of the church. The Corinthians, both Christian and non-Christian, were deeply attracted to any sign of spiritual power. They wanted to see the power of God (or the power of the gods). Paul often defends that his ministry, although it has so much suffering and appears to be weak, is actually revealing the power of God. (See 2 Cor. 4:7)
Paul teaches the Corinthian church that, during their assembly, to seek the sensational power of God, even if it is an actual spiritual experience, is not as important as speaking only a few words intelligibly. If Paul is speaking about actual spiritual gifts, how much more does this apply to basic subjective human responses that are not spiritual, like crying or “being touched”?
In my sermon preparations I do not avoid trying to making connections that “move” people, but no longer do I make those my goal. My goal is to speak intelligibly, explaining the Scriptures and how we are to respond. I want us to think first and feel second. This is why I prepare my sermons word-for-word in advance through prayer and study, and do not operate by responding to the Spirit on the spot. I trust the Spirit guides me during my preparations so I can speak intelligibly.Should you and I determine the quality of a sermon or overall church service by how it makes us feel or by what it makes us think about? By how intelligibly it shares the story of God in Christ or by how well it makes us feel connected to the living Christ?