She asked as though it is a common concern, "Do I have to wear shoes when I preach?" Seminary students pose odd questions before preaching in class: "Can I tell the parable from the fatted calf's viewpoint?" "Can I dance my sermon?" "Can I show a clip fromGlee?" (The answer to these is "No.") This was the first question on footwear. The issues surrounding preachers' shoes are woefully neglected. Ministers who ignore the homiletical implications of footwear do so at their own peril.
One Saturday evening I drove 200 miles to a small town in Tennessee where I was preaching the next day. On Sunday morning I realized that I brought two left shoes. (I owned two pairs of dress shoes because I once went to preach without any shoes, but that's another story that I should skip.) There are no shoe stores open on Sunday at 8:00 a.m. My first attempt to put a left shoe on my right foot was unbearable. The second shoe, however, was endurable. I could get through it. (It should have been comforting to know that right and left shoes were invented only a little more than a century ago, but it wasn't.) I considered other options. I could claim to have sprained my ankle and wear one shoe. I could say that I felt preachers should preach on one foot so as to communicate urgency. I could tell the truth.
I was sure that someone was going to ask, "Why are you wearing two left shoes that don't match?" but no one did. I was ready with a response, "Like many Baptists, I was born with two left feet."
When Jesus sent out the seventy, he said, "Carry no sandals" (Luke 10:4)-which indicates I should never have had two pairs of dress shoes. This is not a universally helpful suggestion, but God said this to one preacher, "'Go, and loose the sackcloth from your loins and take your sandals off your feet,' and he had done so, walking naked and barefoot" (Isaiah 20:2). On the other hand/foot, the father of the prodigal told the servants, "Put shoes on his feet" (Luke 15:22). John the Baptist says, "I am not worthy to carry his sandals"-which indicates that Jesus wasn't barefoot. Solomon 7:1 exults, "How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden!"[i]
Preachers have to get off on the right foot, because the truth is still putting on its shoes while lies are traveling half way around the world. Ministers should not be goodie two shoes, but need to walk in the shoes of those to whom they preach. As someone said, "You don't want to dance in a puddle with a hole in your shoe." (This sounds like it might be relevant, but isn't.)
I recently preached at First Baptist Church, Augusta, Georgia. The congregation was observing a missions emphasis, so I preached on the sacrifices necessary to be Christ's missionaries. After I finished, Rodger Murchison, the Associate Pastor, offered the invitation: "Today, we are taking an offering of shoes for our ministry in Liberia. We invite you to come to the front and leave your shoes. I'm about to be barefoot and hope you are, too."
What choice did I have? Like everyone else, I took off my shoes and left them at the front. After the service was over, Rodger graciously offered to let me dig through the pile of shoes to find mine. I was tongue-tied at first, but then said, "That would feel like trading my soul for my soles."
God told Moses, "Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5). I told my student she could preach barefoot. I told myself I should try it, too.
The Sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Augusta, Georgia
[i] Since I wrote an essay on shoes, I thought I needed to include a footnote. Solomon 7:1 is not a text on which I would suggest anyone preach.