Preachers and Charisma – What makes them so likeable in the pulpit?

Yesterday, I read an article in the Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times on charisma.  Zachary Woolfe wrote about musical artists, people like Maria Callas, Joshua Bell, or Aprile Millo who have charisma.  Yet, there are other artists who are as technically and musically gifted but do not.  This is not to say that those with charisma are better artists, but Woolfe noted, “Someone who has it will exude it, whether performing ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ or Scarlatti, Mimi or Marguerite. Charisma is not earned with age; an artist is charismatic at 16 or 60. Rigorous training enhances and focuses it, but it cannot create it.”

You can read the full article from this link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/arts/music/what-is-charisma.html?pagewanted=1&sq=Charisma&st=cse&scp=1

Woolfe made a couple of allusions to charisma outside of music, President Clinton and Jesus, but he concentrated on music.

This got me thinking though about preachers.  There is the “technical” side of preaching: biblical insight, written word (sermon), worship leadership; basically, the stuff we learn in seminary.  There is also the “intangible” side, too.  Some preachers seem to have charisma and others don’t, not unlike musicians.

Pastoral profiles in the United Church of Christ don’t ask about charisma as a pastoral gift, and honestly, how could one answer that?  Yet, congregations almost all seek an excellent preacher to fill their pulpits, even though not every preacher has the gift for preaching.  They want an excellent preacher because the laity believes people will start coming to church and the congregation will grow.

But, I wonder if they’re conflating great preaching with charisma?  I also wonder if setting/context has an impact on charisma.  Can a preacher be charismatic in one setting and fall flat in another?

It’s not an unreasonable question.  Unlike a musician who performs for an audience, a preacher interacts with the congregation before, during, and after worship, as well as on a daily basis.  How much charisma does a preacher exude when s/he feels comfortable with the congregation in their life together?  How much does a congregation project their desires for a charismatic preacher when they feel connected?  That comfort, then, could help the preacher show more of his/her true self?

Woolfe ended his article with the following comment by Aprile Millo:

“‘Hemingway gave us a haunting clue to it,’ she replied. ‘In his obsession with the Spanish bullfights, he spoke of the lust of the crowd and its desire to feel something special, a raw authenticity, even in so brutal a setting. What he mentions is the hush that would come over the crowd at the entrance of the toreadors. The people could sense the difference between those who did it for the fame, the paycheck, and those who had the old spirit: the nobility, bravery, heart, ‘duende.’ I believe this also happens in the theater. The crowd can sense the one with the authentic message, the connection to the truth.'”

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About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
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2 Responses to Preachers and Charisma – What makes them so likeable in the pulpit?

  1. Rick says:

    An interesting topic. Charisma counts in a preacher but if I were choosing one I would rank genuine warmth, profound understanding and intellectual insight far higher on the list.

    • Quentin Chin says:

      I don’t dispute that other characteristics could carry more weight in the selection and the regard the congregation holds its pastor. But, for people who come to church (perhaps persuaded by a parishioner to “check out my church”) how would charisma or lack of it play to them?

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