Knowing how much to share of ourselves is a challenge for preachers. Some tend toward over-sharing, others veer the opposite way. When we share nothing we can give the impression that our lives are perfect, or that we don’t care about listeners because we treat them as recipients of our education efforts rather than the richer fullness of our preaching.
Preaching is so much more than education. It is an incarnational ministry that involves not only the words we communicate but the fullness of our communication. That is, we give of ourselves when we preach. We should do so because we are speaking not only as information transmitters but as ambassadors of Christ. How would he preach? At arm’s length? Dispassionately? Surely not.
So when we speak for Him and of Him, we need to represent Him. Part of that is to be real and give of ourselves so that when we have served in preaching we have expended more than the energy needed to simply stand and speak the words.
But when we decide to share from our own lives, how can we know what to share? Here is one way to evaluate whether something is appropriate or not (the idea was shared by a friend, but it may well come from a book that I do not know)…
Is it a scar or a wound?
A scar is evidence not only of failure but also of healing. Scars speak of the difficulty of life, but also of hope when life hurts. Maybe the scars are from personal failure, or from personal suffering, or from opposition we have faced. Every scar can be a source of hope and help to others as we speak with the credibility of the hope that they can find in Christ in the midst of their current challenges.
However, a wound is different. A wound can be very small but will result in a strong reaction if it is poked. Maybe someone is opposing you at the moment. Maybe you are struggling in the aftermath of personal sin or failure. Maybe you are facing a physical trial right now. It may be possible to share from this as you preach, but be very careful that what is shared is not excessive or inappropriate. If someone is making your life difficult at this time you may describe the situation unhelpfully or say something that you would better keep to yourself. If you are in process in regards to some failure then you may not yet have the credibility to speak of hope for others in that struggle.
This is not a hard and fast rule. Rather it is a helpful guideline. What clarifications would you add? Scars can be powerful preaching aids, but open wounds rarely are.