The first preacher to influence me was my father. He was more of an orator than a whooper. His preaching had a rhythm and cadence. But he, and most of his preaching colleagues, were not real whoopers.
Then it happened.
I heard whooping. Real whooping. At the conclusion of the sermon, the preacher turned his words into music. In a real sense, he started singing his sermon.
I immediately determined that was the way I wanted to preach. So I began to practice. And I started listening to good whoopers. Being able to sing a bit, I was able to imitate what I heard. And it wasn’t long before I developed my own whoop.
My father was not pleased with this development at all. He allowed me to preach occasionally. But when I finished, he would publicly chastise me for whooping. He did everything he could to get me to read good books, rather than listing to preaching tapes. My dad constantly warned me against being a stereotype. He wanted me to be able to stand anywhere and preach.
But I was like a tree planted by the waters. I would not be moved! I kept working at it, until I became an above-average whooper. And it became a featured part of my preaching. Over time, however, my thoughts and feelings about whooping changed.
Several factors broadened my perspective.
First of all, changes in my voice forced me to less dependent on my voice. More importantly, I became a student of expositional preaching. And if you are trying to be faithful to the text, every sermon cannot end with a celebration. Likewise, I started becoming a pastor. I increasingly wanted to see my congregation to grow spiritually. This requires more than “having church.” They needed teaching. And because the majority of my people did not come to Sunday School or Bible study; I decided that my Sunday morning preaching had to have a strong teaching element.
I was also encouraged to be more than a whooper by listening to very strong African-American preachers who did not whoop. Some could not do it. But they didn’t need it. Others were good whoopers, but de-emphasized it. I once asked a preacher I looked up to what he did to protect his voice. He bluntly said that he didn’t think about stuff like that. “You young preachers worry about stuff like that,” he said. That rebuke caused me to grow up quickly.
I began a new pastorate a few years ago. And the church had a TV broadcast and live streamed its services. Consequently, more people had the opportunity to hear me preach on Sunday mornings. Some preacher friends claimed I got to Jacksonville and stopped whooping. But most had only heard me preach on the road. They had not heard my Sunday preaching in Los Angeles, even though several years of my Sunday sermons were online. Most weeks I preached for an hour. But I did not whoop. And I believe the church was better for it.
As I chat up preachers around the country, I am asked, “What do you think about whooping? I often answer that question in two sentences.
There is a legitimate place for whooping in preaching. But the place of whooping in preaching is not central.
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