The Role of Celebration in Preaching
The gospel is good news, our delivery should reflect that.
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There is no shortage of elements to consider in seeking to improve oneself as a preacher. To consistently develop, we must be aware of our strengths and weaknesses as proclaimers. At times, our growth is stymied by a simple lack of mindfulness of significant but, perhaps, overlooked essentials in the presentation of the gospel. One such often underappreciated and underdeveloped aspect of telling God’s truth is the role of celebration in preaching.
The gospel is, literally, good news. The story of God’s glory being revealed through God’s gracious satisfaction of his righteous wrath through the sacrificial death of the sinless Jesus Christ, Christ’s glorious resurrection that justifies those who believe, and his soon return is the only hope for fallen humanity to be made right with the holy God. God’s loving provision of a path for reconciliation should not be communicated dryly or without pathos. The preacher’s emotions in the sermonic moment should reflect God’s heart: anger and pain because of sin, passionate love for the lost, and joyous celebration with those who are rescued by grace. Celebration, therefore, is an indispensable part of the presentation and reception of the gospel message.
The cultivation of celebration
Cultivating celebration is vital. Without it, the preacher misrepresents a critical segment of the divine message. Celebration is not anti-intellectual or mere emotionalism. In fact, true gospel celebration is the concert of intellectual understanding, healthy emotions, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God is glorified, the church is strengthened, and unbelievers are shown a clear picture of the spiritual fellowship between a loving God and the redeemed community when these elements come together around the proclaiming and hearing of the gospel. Without celebration we are simply telling news rather than good news.
Celebration should be an emphasis for every preacher regardless of the culture or ethnicity of the preacher and the audience. Gospel proclaimers can be greatly strengthened in this area by carefully studying the history and practice of celebration in the African American preaching experience. African American preachers have a unique legacy and understanding of the intrinsic nature of celebration within preaching.
The most clearly recognizable characteristic of African American preaching celebration is colloquially called “whooping.” Whooping is the intonation of spoken words during the sermon. It is not singing, but it is musical. Its origin in the African American ecclesiastical experience is in slavery. Those who survived the horrors of the middle passage bound in chains, made to work without pay, bought and traded as property, and experienced hundreds of years of the most vile expression of oppression found hope in the liberating truth of the gospel. Having trusted Christ, some experienced the burning call to be gospel proclaimers. However, because their “Christian” slave masters disregarded their humanity, they were expressly forbidden to preach. But the burden to preach is undeniable. So the courageous slave preachers honor God’s divine call to preach by speaking with musical melody and rhythm. Preaching in this way allowed the slave preacher to proclaim the gospel under the guise of merely leading a slave chant.
Phillip L. Pointer: