How much should a preacher talk about himself?
On the one hand, you have David Buttrick who argues that self-disclosure has virtually no place in preaching. On the other hand you have Fred Craddock who talks about his own experience so much that at times you think he’s preaching The Gospel According to Craddock.
I do think there is a happy medium. I was told that Ron Allen once suggested that you should only talk about yourself once every month to six weeks. While I don’t think we need to place such a rigorous rule on our preaching, I think there is reason for Allen’s suggestion (I would appreciate a citation for this rule, if it is indeed from Allen).
Certainly, in some of Allen’s recent works on the listeners’ responses to a sermon, he has also argued the value of transparent self-disclosure. Most of us would agree that some of the most effective and powerful ministry and preaching emanates out of personal experience. Whether it is a long-term recovering addict working with those whose addictions are still insidiously intertwined in their lives or a reformed prisoner working with newly released convicts, our experiences shape who we are and give us a portion of our pathos and ethos. Yet still there is a danger; are we making ourselves the center of our message rather than the risen Jesus, God the Father, or the Holy Spirit?
The simple point I’m trying to make is that some preachers talk about themselves too much, and that is a problem no matter how “transparent” or “authentic” or “connected” it makes you sound, because repeated appeal to self has the de facto effect of making the preaching task about the preacher and not about the message.
Out of a sense of fairness and in full-disclosure, I don’t particularly like to talk about myself from the pulpit. There are preachers who do this very well, but I’m not one of them! When I hear someone with this ability to make their story a powerful testament to the gospel, I can appreciate it, but I’m not very good at it. But more often than not, when I hear a preacher talking about himself, I start to get a “rubbed the wrong way” kind of feeling–especially if the personal story is the central focus of the sermon and is not being used just to support a particular move within the sermon.
But here is my question…those of you who are hearers of sermons (and if you’re a preacher, I hope you listen to sermons), how do you feel about a sermon when the preacher talks about himself? Feel free to discuss under my somewhat incomplete and tongue-in-cheek poll.
David Buttrick, Homiletic Moves and Structures, Fortress Press (1987). http://www.amazon.com/Homiletic-Moves-Structures-David-Buttrick/dp/0800620968