I am sure we have all met them. Those guys who talk to you before or after the service who seem like perfectly ordinary, normal dudes. Suddenly, they ascend into the pulpit and both their demeanour and voice immediately change. No longer are they the guy you were talking to half an hour ago, now they are saying things like ‘forsooth’ and ‘peradventure’. Instead of using ordinary sentences, everything is spoken in the form of an Ancient Near East blessing. Normal conversational tone is abandoned in favour of a particularly serious, formal and slightly affected way of speaking.
It is particularly jarring when this is all coming from someone my sort of age or younger. It is what I once heard described as ‘young fogey syndrome’. Blokes who use normal, everyday vernacular one-to-one suddenly find themselves wearing double-breasted jackets and ties and responding to everything with ‘may the Lord grant you his mercy’. Instead of telling you stuff is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they insist on referring to it only as ‘spiritually profitable’ or ‘unedifying’. It feels (to me at least) like a very affected form of piety.
In truth, it is especially prevalent in the Reformed Baptist circles in which I grew up. I suspect the problem arises from a particular culture that determines maturity based on some fairly external, unimportant things. I have heard people infer that someone was growing because, instead of picking up a pew bible from the back of church, they have started bringing their own from home every week. Others point to the fact that someone’s prayers are beginning to conform to the prayers of people several decades their senior rather than taking a more basic form of words. And, yes, it had been noted that someone stopped wearing jeans and hoodies and chose to come in shirt and tie and this was proof of the Spirit’s work in their life.
Most young people simply want to be taken seriously. If your culture dictates that wearing the right clothes and speaking a certain way marks an individual out as mature, then those concerned about being taken seriously will tend to emulate these things. If preaching is considered ‘spiritually profitable’ when it moulds to a particular form, using certain types of word and serious tones, we can’t be that surprised when we have people in their teens and twenties dressing like the elderly from the 1950s and speaking in ways that the average man on the street would find more than a little jarring.
Of course, if you were a teenager in the 1950s, these things might be entirely appropriate for you. If you are the sort of person who wears a suit and tie every day of the week like my Grandfather, I’m not saying don’t do that on a Sunday. Nor am I saying, if that is you, not to preach like that either. I am just making a plea for people to be themselves. Preach in your normal clothes, using normal words, in your normal voice.
The guy who was a teenager in the 1950s – who may well be preaching next week – will connect far better with similar people by being himself than you, in your 20s, by sticking on a tie. You, no doubt, will connect with other folk in a way they can’t. What is more, those who are truly spiritual will not be won-over because of the clothes you wore or the language you used was drawn straight from a 19th century sermon by Spurgeon. The spiritually-minded will be convinced by the gospel and the truth of the Word being applied to them.
I have been encouraged, rebuked, challenged and built up by guys in shirts and ties and blokes in trackies and t-shirts. I have found value from the preaching of blokes who speaking in high, serious tones as well as those who turn everything into slang. I was not attracted or distracted by their clothes or style of speaking, I was attracted by the truth they proclaimed. When they pointed me to the scriptures and applied what it said to me and my situation, I didn’t care what clothes they were wearing. I only cared that I could understand them, that they could draw out how the passage was relevant for me and what I had to do as a result of what they were saying.
I do, however, find it off-putting when one has to battle through a sea of language that hasn’t been in use for two or three centuries. I find it especially jarring when I was chatting perfectly normally before the service but when the preacher gets into the pulpit and turns on the archaic words and ‘young fogey’ schtick. Many people find that off-putting because they view the preaching as inauthentic. The man is one thing out of the pulpit and another thing in it. This works exactly the other way round, when middle-class people start speaking in (what they think) is matey working-class banter. People will quickly see that the guy in the pulpit is not the same bloke out of it. That will inevitably affect how, or even if, people will hear your sermon.
So, please, let’s just be ourselves. Let’s be the same people in and out of the pulpit. Let’s talk in the language and tones that we would speak to people in conversation. And, if you’re prone to use ‘forsooth’ and ‘peradventure’, perhaps just go with ‘really’ and ‘maybe’.