I’ve been watching the SingOff these past two weeks on television. If you don’t know it, it is an elimination competition between a capella groups. A collection of purely voices lifted in song, producing a myriad of sounds and rhythms. Sometimes the group is so good that it gives me chills and I have to grab my husband’s hand. It is just that good. Whatever note, or chord or transition that was pulled is absolutely beautiful.
The competition has three judges who are professional musicians with a significant critical musical background. So they can listen for the chills, but they also listen for the chinks. They can define why something might not have given me chills. And rather than say it was pitchy, they can say exactly where a tempo was lost or a transition in dynamics was too abrupt or needed and executed poorly. It is helpful to hear these things. But what I find especially enlightening about the feedback of the judges is when they give advice to the singers about being vulnerable on stage.
It has become a theme for them this year. Perhaps not intentionally, but, still.
Be vulnerable they say. Let your performance extend from your deepest feelings and touch the hearts of the audience. Come up and lay it all down on the stage. Reveal your weaknesses, reveal your struggle, reveal your nerves and we will honor all that you bring.
If you don’t, they say, then the audience will know. If the performance is too clean, if it is too blocky, if it is too automatic, the hearers will know it, even if they do not understand why.
As a preacher, these words hit directly to my heart.
I am not standing on a stage with thousands of people watching me. I am not dancing in sync with four or fourteen other people. I am not belting a pop song into a microphone.
But I am telling a story. I am delivering a message. And the message is not my own. I have been given the gift to proclaim this message as an instrument of God. I use my voice. And I know that if I am not vulnerable from the pulpit, then the people who are listening will know that something is not quite right. They may not know what it is, but something will ring false to their ears.
Vulnerability is dangerous. I might reveal something that I am not ready to show. If I show where I am not perfect, will they ignore the message? If I show my nervousness, with it distract from the message?
I cannot help but think that this is the most vital part of preaching, behind being true to the Word. The Spirit will take care of the message, of the Gospel, the truth will be revealed, but as a preacher, I want to make that message as accessible as possible.
I lay it all down. I reveal struggles that I have faced. I challenge my people with the same things that challenge me. I speak the truth in vulnerable love: ready to share, and ready to receive.