One Square Yard
As any preacher can attest to, there have been many times when one has been in a conversation with other preachers and found that there were always those who let everyone know how brave they were when they approached a particular subject. These men always seem to be the ones that have an overarching need to be heard and recognized as one who would say things that others would not say. They would let everyone know that when THEY were in the pulpit, nothing was too big, dangerous or complicated that they would not face it boldly, completely and competently. And once they told everyone where they stood, that solved the problem forever. These preachers tend to be the kind who bloviate incessantly never pleased with themselves until they suck all the air out of the room on every subject. When they are finished speaking, there is simply nothing left to be said on the subject. In fact, this is what they seek to do in the One Square Yard of safety where they muster the intestinal fortitude to say things that they would not say in another environment. They become a bully and a braggart in the One Square Yard. We have all seen these people and, quite frankly, tire of them almost immediately.
So, where is that One Square Yard that brings forth the “prophet” in many preachers? What is so special about that place? What power does it exude? Why are they so brave there and not in other places? That One Square Yard is the square yard immediately behind the pulpit. When they stand in that particular place, they become someone other than who they are. They suddenly find the intestinal fortitude to speak on alcohol and let the people find out their position on imbibing. The sticky subjects swirling around in the social and spiritual world are suddenly of no consequence to the man standing in the One Square Yard. Sex is a favorite subject and the One Square Yard emboldens the person to say things and allude to things that they would not normally say to someone in another environment. There seems to be a delight is being able to be “fringy” and crude thinking that they are safe because they are standing in the One Square Yard. Jokes are told that cross the line all in the quest to be cute. In fact, being “cute” is often a cover for saying something that even they knew was out of place. If their hand is ever called then they can always say….”well, I was just joking or trying to make a point in fun.” When fringy things are said and crudities are uttered, the spiritually shallow and carnal will giggle and laugh out loud approvingly as if they were at a secular venue listening to a jokester. But, the spiritually mature, serious minded people will be shocked and offended by such shallow behavior from their pulpit.
This writer has also seen the times when he witnessed a preacher who thought that standing in the One Square Yard would add an atmosphere of profundity to something which was juvenile at best. They were of the opinion that their careless preparation was lost in the fact that the statements were being made from the One Square Yard. Surely the people think that anything said from this authoritative position would be received as profound. A lot of shallow preaching is presented to God’s people because of this frame of mind. The necessary hours of proper prayer, study and thought necessary to produce sermons which are honorable to the Lord and edifying to the people are not invested because the preacher thinks that his wonderful personality, unlimited skills and overpowering delivery will cover for any lack of proper preparation. Just give them something wrapped up in his wonderful package and they will be overwhelmed with gratitude for being able to hear him expound theological and doctrinal dribble. They treat the people as if they are in the fifth grade having never heard what he is telling them in his entertaining and mesmerizing way. This kind of approach is often witnessed because of the effect of the One Square Yard. In fact, I call it; The One Square Yard Effect.
When God calls a man to be the Shepherd of a flock, he expects him to be who he is, as he is, all the time. He wants someone who sets the example and makes his position on issues the same all the time, every time, any time. God did not issue a call which was to give a man boldness to proclaim truth only when he stood in the One Square Yard. If one’s position and convictions are not the same all the time they are no good any of the time. If a man of God equivocates any time, he is not serving God all the time and he needs to revisit his sense of Call. Truth is truth all the time, every time and one who has truly been given a call upon his life must be sensitive to it and be committed to making sure the truth is always told even if he is not standing in the One Square Yard of safety.
There is no excuse for using this hallowed square yard as a place to say things that are crude or off color. This seems to be a malady which is affecting many preachers in today’s world, especially men from the current generation. The earlier generations knew better than to go where a lot of young men seem to be comfortable and strive to be cute. Jokes are not the gospel. Edgy statements are not honoring to the people or to the high position to which a person has supposedly been called. And let me add, not all young preachers are affected in such a way. There are many good ones who would never use the One Square Yard for anything but preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ without compromise or improper motive. I am very encouraged that, even in this explicit age, there are those who do what is right. But, this narcissistic, self centered, “look at me” generation largely created by Twitter, Face Book, YouTube and other mediums tend to think only of themselves even when standing behind the pulpit. Using the One Square Yard to manipulate the people and seek to promote one’s agenda by that manipulation is not honoring to the people or to the position one holds. One needs to be extremely aware of the fact that God knows the thoughts and intentions of one’s heart and will judge accordingly.
What a special privilege it is to preach! What a wonderful calling upon one’s life! There is no other profession which trumps the high calling of preaching to God’s people. Everything else must stand in the anteroom of human experience. This is not to belittle what others feel led to do in their lives, but rather to exalt the high calling of preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. It should not be done lightly or flippantly. It should be approached with an understanding of the awesome nature of what one is about to do. There are those who will go to heaven based on what they hear from the One Square Yard. There are others who may spend eternity without God in Hell because of what they did not hear or of what they heard that was carelessly delivered to the people. Preaching should be a precious time. It doesn’t happen often enough and the time given to it should be honored by proper preparation and a sense of the magnitude of the preaching event.
There is no place in the One Square Yard for someone seeking to be popular or famous. Too many men are self promoters as if God simply can’t handle the situation and make them famous. Men who push themselves often push themselves over the cliff. How one sounds or looks is not the issue and anyone who realizes this can be used of the Lord to do a work they can never achieve by themselves. Just as a preacher must be happy with where he is, so he must be happy with who God has made him to be. Someone else is exactly that: someone else. Every man should be so pliable in God’s hands that what he is is what God wants him to be. He should approach preaching in this manner. Say what you say the way you say it. Be who you are and let God do the trimming, pruning and perfecting. Emulating someone else’s finer points is not wrong but it should not become a quest to be that person all over again. It won’t happen. One would be a cheap, second rate copy of that great preacher if they try to do this. And, it is easily recognizable to those who hear the copycat preach. It doesn’t help, it hurts his efforts. God made each person to be an individual with their own traits. He knows how He would like to use a particular person and the preacher should not get in the way which he can easily do while, at the same time, rationalizing that he is simply trying to be his best. You will be your best when God is able to make of you what He wants and not what you envision as the perfect preacher. Remember, God deals in originals, not copycats. Copycats are made but God deals in creating.
Some who read this little tome will try to figure out who I may have in mind. Let me clear that up immediately. I have no one in particular in mind. I have simply been around long enough that I have experienced all kinds in many places. In fact, the older I get and the more experience God gives to me, the harder I am to please. It has become very easy for me to “read” the situation and discern who is worthy to be heard and who is not. The One Square Yard reveals many things about a preacher. He needs to be honest, humble and well prepared when he steps into that hallowed place. The high calling of being a preacher of God’s Word must cause one to be extremely careful of how they approach the event. They must hold it high and treat it as God meant it to be: the highest calling God can place upon a mere mortal. They must be extremely careful when they stand in that One Square Yard behind the pulpit to preach to God’s people.
William F. Harrell