Don't Mistake the Hype
Preachers have a lot of different styles. Some are on stage, but it feels like you're just talking to them in a coffee shop. A few pastors still cling to the old-school fire and brimstone anger behind a pulpit. But in the last decade or so, there has been a new style on the scene, dominating the insta-feed.
Pastors with hype.
You've seen them before. They run across the stage, they shout at times, they will ask the congregation to talk back, and some even have insane demonstrations (looking at you Transformation Church). But they capture the attention in a way that only a few comedians have ever done. That style of monologue is up there with Robin Williams and Chris Farley.
And it works in comedy because you're on the edge of your seat waiting for the punchline. The hype is part of the character or the bit that draws the listener into a different space, making them more available for the joke.
Preachers try to do the same thing, with or without hype. They're trying to draw you into a space using tone and structure so that you can hear the truth of the message. The problem with hype in a sermon comes when the hype overshadows the message. Did you listen to what the pastor said or just how he said it?
Hype can quickly become a cheap imitator of a personal trainer instead of a tool to point toward God. You know those guys who always encourage you to "dig deep" and "make your last set your best." Nothing wrong with that in the gym because you need encouragement, but on stage, that encouragement should pale in comparison with the truth of God you're presenting. You're not pushing people to be their best selves. You're exhorting them to bring their worst selves to Jesus.
Honestly, the hype is neither biblical nor unbiblical. I know a few fellas who run around like that and they love Jesus more than most. I know some guys who act out antics like that because it's an easy way to keep attention.
Jerry Seinfeld is a famous comedian who only does clean comedy. No curse words. It's not because he's religious or because he doesn't curse. He does it because he sees it as a crutch in his comedy. He tells the story of doing a stand-up routine when he was starting out. He was doing his bit, and the joke ended with, "and they were in the f***ing cave." It got a big laugh, but as he thought about it that night, he wondered if they were laughing at the joke or the brashness on stage. So he told the same exact joke the next night but without the curse word, and nobody laughed. From that moment on, he decided only to do clean comedy so that he knew when people laughed, it was because of his humor, not because of a shock factor.
I think hype in a church can be the same way. As a speaker, it can be a crutch to keep attention rather than hone the craft of a good sermon. It can keep the attention of a crowd rather than diffuse truth to a congregation.
On the flip side, it can be a crutch for a listener. It's easy to say you sat under God's word when a spiritual personal trainer told you to dig deep. It's easy to feel like you "heard God's word" when you didn't learn anything.
Hype isn't biblical or unbiblical. It's neither good nor bad. However, it is easy to pretend encouragement or conviction is happening when it's just a bit of a comedy sketch.