It's another cautionary lesson for pastors.
If you saw either the Detroit speech or the Press Club event, the first thing that probably struck you was Wright's delivery. His gestures and posture and for lack of a better word "theatrics," all made the scene quite entertaining or macabre depending on your perspective.
Wright employed his pulpit persona on a national stage set for reflection, analysis, and discussion. I wondered if he had been so accustomed to preaching as public speaking that he was unable to find a different (more appropriate?) mode of address for these venues.
Wright has built a large church and following with this pulpit persona. Whatever you think of what he's saying, he is engaging. Any time you can begin a sentence about a preacher with "whatever you think he's saying," you know you have a problem--engaging or not. The danger of building a church on exaggerated personality seems to be at least two-fold.
First, it traps the preacher in the entertainment expectations of so many churchgoers. If we entertain rather than edify, we're not far from becoming the little monkey in the red suit that does tricks on the street corner for his owner. And it's awfully difficult to escape that arrangement once you start building the pulpit on an exaggerated personality like that. The pressure to "perform" is already great in many African American contexts. A man can "preach" if he can excite emotion and response. But if he calmly and clearly opens the text, then he is "a good teacher." Culturally, African Americans have always placed great value in oratory. So much so, emotional oratory has become to litmus test for preaching.
One young man approached me at T4G feeling the weight of this pressure from people attending his church. They want him to 'hoop; he wants to feed them meat. Two dear brothers have been called "black white preachers" because they are committed expositors (with fire I might add). But exposition belongs to "whiteness" in the minds of too many, and the preacher is potentially tempted toward or enslaved by the pressure to entertain.
The second danger of building on personality is the congregation gets very accustomed to two things: feeling as the end of worship and lazy listening as the means of worship. If we entertain people rather than instruct and edify, we will create a body of people who want the fleeting feelings of a moment rather than the meat of the word. They will want a glitzy god rather than the glorious God of Scripture. They will not think they have "worshipped" or served God until they have felt something or been moved in some way. That's emotionalism, not genuine emotion that comes from the truth.
And a congregation accustomed to being entertained will be a spiritually lazy congregation. Entertainment increasingly puts the cookies on the bottom shelf (actually the floor). It makes everything easy to reach, requires little/nothing of the one entertained, and encourages comfort and ease. In short, today's entertainment generally makes people lazy. The same is true in a church if entertainment is the dominant philosophy. People are not made into Bereans, searching the Scripture to verify the truth. They're reduced to blank-faced popcorn and goober eating moviegoers, taking in whatever glimmers on the silver screen. Except the silver screen is increasingly the church service.
And please, please brothers, let us be "weak" in the pulpit that Christ might be seen as strong. Let us preach in the personality the Lord gave us, only careful not to build the church on it.