I was fortunate to grow up in the Cincinnati area during the 70’s. Any lover of baseball knows that before free agency one of the best teams ever assembled, “The Big Red Machine,” played in Cincinnati at that time. Growing up as an impressionable young lover of the game, I played baseball every chance I could get. I played organized Little League and when I wasn’t playing that, we were down the street in our neighbor’s back yard. One of the things I would do in the backyard was imitate the swings of my favorite players- from the pre-swing routine and stance of Tony Perez, to the elbow pumping of Little Joe Morgan to the hunched over squat of the switch hitting Hit King Pete Rose, and many others around the league like Steve Garvey, Fred Rice, Ron Cey, and Rod Carew. I would imitate them so often that sometimes it would mess up my stance in the game that really counted on the little league fields on Saturdays.
I thought adopting their hitting stances, rather than my own would make me a great hitter like them. However, trying to imitate someone else, was affecting my batting average greatly because while I may look like Pete Rose and Joe Morgan in the batters box, I wasn’t even close in productivity. As a matter of fact, trying to be like them, made me worse than when I was being just ordinary ol’ me.
Finding Your Voice: My Journey
Then as I got older, a funny thing happened on my way to becoming a preaching pastor. In my early years of preaching, just like my little league days, I did the exact same thing. I started trying to imitate other preachers. Every preacher I heard at a conference, Chapel at my Christian University, or at a Revival (for those under age 40- this was a spiritual event where church attenders would get excited and invite friends to actually come each and every weeknight for a whole week, I know, crazy right? What normal American Christian today would ever be so crazy and take or have the time for church that many times in one week? That was sarcasm by the way.) Anyway, Where was I? Oh, yes, listening and watching so many outstanding preachers, I immediately started making mental notes and wanting to mimic them. I would sit there and drink it in and think things like, “Wow, that guy was hilarious, he would have you laughing one moment and crying the next” or “I love how that guy could speak with out a single note” and there were many other things that crossed my mind.
I started thinking that if I could preach like them, I will have an impact like them when it came to preaching the Bible. So like my early years of baseball, I tried to preach like Bob, Wayne, Bill, John, Dave, Max, Mike or Jeff. Sadly, if you were one of the poor souls who had to endure my early preaching days, you had no idea what preacher would show up next. I also began to struggle keeping up the charade, much like my little league days. I may look like Pete Rose in the box, but I sure didn’t hit like him. In the pulpit, I may have tried to preach like Bob, but I was no Bob!
I guess you could say, “I couldn’t swing it.” Okay that was bad. But I struggled, I couldn’t sustain it, I was all over the map in my preparation and delivery. I finally came to a decision, one that I thought was an admission of failure that I just couldn’t preach. I guess I just wasn’t cut out for it. So I came to face the sad reality that I would never be a preacher like them. And it was then, that God spoke to me, it was so crystal clear as if He had said it audibly, He said, “Good, I didn’t expect you to preach ‘like them,’ I wanted you to preach like YOU!”
Why does such an obvious statement feel so counter-intuitive? BE WHO I MADE YOU TO BE. It sounds so simple and it should be, but we are all seduced by the desire to be like someone else. Which is a desire that in all honesty says, “God, they can do it, they are good at it, but me on the other hand, I’m too much of a project.” Or, “You have gifted them; I want what they have, because what I have isn’t good enough.” When we read those thoughts out loud, it reeks with doubt and a shortage of faith. We act as if that God seems to have our gift of communication on back-order. He will let us know when He has a new shipment, but until then, just go up there and imitate Andy Stanley.
If you are starting out, or if you’re still not being true to the You God wants to use then write this down. BE YOU – FIND AND USE YOUR VOICE.
Now I am not saying, don’t learn from other great communicators, there are a lot of them out there and we should never stop learning. What I am saying is, YOU GO AND BE YOU!
3 Reasons You Need to BE YOU
1) Today’s listener wants authenticity.
It is difficult to communicate authenticity if they see one side of you throughout the week and then many other variations of you when you step up to the Microphone on Sunday. Maybe you are a cool customer Monday through Saturday but come Sunday you start screaming and shouting, or finishing your sentences with “And-uh” or have slipped back to the King James English. What I have come to learn is, they will listen to what you have to say, if they feel as if you are the one saying it. Stop Acting- Be Yours Truly!
2) Being someone other than yourself brings about inconsistency in your delivery.
Who will your church see over the long haul? Will it be you week in and week out? Or Andy Stanley sitting on a chair and using a TV screen to his left this week, or Perry Noble with his southern draw and use of some words that would get you fired in some churches, or maybe it will be Tim Keller, the Professor styled communicator, and then maybe you switch to the high energy and charisma of Judah Smith, and then wrap up the series using your hands and speaking with your eyes closed throughout the message like Francis Chan.
(FYI- I love every one of those listed above. Every one of them are podcast favorites of mine. They all have a huge listening audience. I also believe it is not a coincidence, that every one of them are unique because they are true to themselves.)
3) If God called you to preach, then He called YOU to preach.
God already has a Matt Chandler in the pulpit He obviously wanted YOU to be in the pulpit you are speaking behind! It is cliché but true, “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips those He has called.” You have what it takes, your congregation needs You, God does not need you, but He chose you anyway.
One of the greatest compliments I received about my speaking voice came from a friend that I look up to and respect for their honesty. As we were leaving the main session of a Christian Convention he said, “Kenny, that guy reminded me a lot of you and the way you preach.” Please understand I do not share that story as if to say, I’m of the level of a major convention keynote speaker. I share that because many years back, I finally started communicating with the style and voice God gave me, I became vigilant and intentional of being the same guy Monday through Saturday as I am on Sunday. And trying to be transparent with you, I also have to admit (and reading what I say next will have a better effect if you cue up some Epic music in the background or some “Rudy” or “Rocky” the underdog images) that it was usually those types of speakers who I always looked to and tried to imitate, so it was kind of satisfying to think, “Wow! I always wanted to be like them when I preached but someone actually thought, ‘They were like me.’ Could you feel the – “Do you believe in Miracles!” moment right there? Okay, I’m back. Sorry for that momentary lapse of pride.
Just Be You!
It takes the pressure off when you can be who you are rather than trying to imitate the swing of a superstar athlete or the style of a great preacher. You should still learn from them, be inspired by how God has equipped them, but be the speaker God created you to be. When I stopped trying to swing like Joe Morgan or Preach like _________, it brought about a growing sense that God for reasons only known to Him wanted to use me in spite of my lack of confidence and insecurities.
I think that is why I love what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:27, and I will paraphrase, God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things, not so they can boast or take credit but so God will most certainly get Full Credit! Or Acts 4:13 which shows us: the religious leaders were blown away by the men (disciples) speaking, they said, these are just “ordinary men” preaching the gospel, and they also took notice that they had been with Jesus. My personal favorite, you could call it the “I’m living proof passage” is found in the Old Testament book of Numbers 22 when God actually spoke through a Donkey in warning Balaam. Yes, the donkey talked.
There are times I feel that when He speaks through my voice, in my style of delivery, that God still demonstrates a willingness to speak through Donkeys like me! I have come to expect and accept the fact that God still speaks through the Weak, the Ordinary and even a Donkey when necessary.
Do you feel weak as a speaker, not “as good” as other pastors? Do you find yourself “wishing you were someone else?” If so, stop it and start being more like YOU! God chooses the ordinary men and women in order to do and say extraordinary things. If He has called you to speak, then go use the Voice and Style He has given YOU and Swing Away.
Kenny White is a graduate of Kentucky Christian University and presently leads a growing 5-year-old church plant called, The Crossing in Batavia, Ohio. He has been a Youth Pastor, Associate and Lead Pastor for almost 25 years in NC, KY, TN, GA and Ohio. Feel free to ask questions or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.