Nobody wants to hear a boy band plays the blues. Whatever the polished pretty boys might know of hurt and heartbreak, they surely can’t dive deeply into the hardship of life. Even if they sang the words and notes all right, the feeling would be all wrong.
Sadly, I feel that too many preachers are like a boy band trying to play the blues. We find a nice melody, locate a catchy hook, and auto-tune our voices so that we sound pitch perfect. People nod along in pleasant agreement, enjoying themselves, and maybe even remembering a line or two for the drive home. The song (or the sermon) was entertaining but never really engaged their hearts.
It’s time to give up the boy band and start singing the blues. Blues music has a rawness and authenticity that is birthed out of real struggle. The blues are honest about hard times, but in a hopeful way that also convinces us that a time of trial is not the end of the story.
Blues artist Keb’ Mo’ explains the Blues this way:
“That is the biggest influence the blues has had on me, more so than the songs, the riffs, the way Son House sings or Robert Johnson slides up the neck on his guitar – the biggest thing is that those guys are real and in the moment, and they are being truthful about who they are.”
Truthfulness is significant. It’s essential that we are true to the doctrinal teaching of the Bible, but it’s also important that we are true to the actual experience of our lives. Brokenness is universal. Struggle unites us together in common humanity. Many of us preacher types find it easier to be in the text than in the moment, but many of our people are living moment to moment.
Ray Charles explains:
“I think that the blues came from people having trouble. I think the blues came from people having hard times…I think the blues came from people having bad relations with their loved ones, or being mistreated or depressed or oppressed. The blues is a way of expressing how you feel inside.”
People need preachers who can express how they feel inside and explain how the gospel speaks to those feelings. They need preachers who can describe the tug of anxiety, the nudge of resentment, the push of anger, and the pull of depression.
Everyone has a story. We are hearts and minds and souls and guts and wills and emotions and desires and affections colliding with one another on the highway of life. Most of the time, we are too busy or too distracted to sort it out. More and more, I am realizing how often people enter a church in weakness and confusion and weariness from brokenness of life and brokenness of soul.
Broken people need more than a polished pop tune with steady beat and clever play on words. They need a song that brings hope to despair. They need a gospel song that is honest about brokenness and at the same time confident in Christ’s goodness.
Paul received a reminder from God: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God desired for Paul to lead in weakness. No hiding it in embarrassment, no circumventing it with technique, no masking it with posturing, no overriding it with drive and ambition, and no baptizing it with theological nuance. God called him to remain in weakness.
Paul learned to embrace this reality, saying:
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Apart from the mystery of the gospel, this promotional campaign for weakness makes little sense. It is far more natural to hide our weakness, and life experience reinforces the tendency to boast in our strengths. In God’s plan, however, a personally weak individual upon whom the power of Christ rested was really strong man full of confidence in his God.
To me, this is an often overlooked necessity for preachers. A gospel-centered approach goes beyond theological premise or organizing principle. We need preachers who live the gospel and know what it means to be to be simultaneously weak and strong. We need honest men, who are standing firm upon the gospel, proclaiming their own weakness in Christ’s power.
When we preach in our own strength, it is easy to come off like a boy band in a self-focused, over-choreographed performance. If we pretend to have it all together, we rob our people of the comfort of the gospel. They need to know that we understand weakness, and at the same time, see in us the strength the gospel provides. Our world needs preaching that applies the uncommon grace of Jesus to our common human battles.
A friend and mentor recently told me of his growth as a pastor. He mentioned that, in his early years, his preaching was concerned with two questions: (1) Was I accurate? (2) Was I articulate? As he matured, he began to sense the inner struggles of his people, and his ministry was renewed as he learned to engage their hearts directly and compassionately.
Guitar legand Carlos Santana said, “Blues can put a mirror on you and make you ask, “Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?” Our preaching should do the same.
Like David singing the blues in the Psalms, we are called to give full expression to the deep thirstiness of our souls as we walk in this dry and parched land, all the while knowing that God’s steadfast love is better than life. So, let’s preach with raw authenticity about life’s struggles and, at the same time, with strong faith in the One that will fully satisfy all our longings.