Well, I delivered my very first sermon this morning! For those of you who may not know, I go to a non-denominational Christian church with an attendance of about 150 people every Sunday. I had the privilege of doing this, because I am engaged in an internship at the church all summer. While my biggest role is to do the teaching for youth group each week, my Pastor decided to let me have a go at the big time and scheduled me for two church-wide sermons during my time here. With my first one behind me, I'd like to reflect on the process and practice of sermonizing
I had anticipated the date of my delivery for a few weeks but didn't actually settle on a topic until about a week and a half ago. The selection and preparation process is by far the hardest part of what pastors do, and the past few weeks have been a crash course on how to find, create, and deliver a life-changing message to people from God's Word. It turns out that it's both an art and a science, and my brain has suffered some serious exertion with these first few baby steps. I won't go into all the details, but I'll say that I'm still discovering what method works best for me, and I'm sure that it will evolve with experience. The most difficult part for me is notes. You see, I am used to writing essays, where you have a general idea, then you write it out, taking people on a journey of discovery as you discover yourself. When it comes to teaching, however, you can't just write something and read it to people, you have to format your notes in such a way as to memorize the material and take cues from single words or short phrases. That is definitely the most difficult thing for me - speaking from the notes. I am fine with speaking in front of people, but I want to be sure that I know what I have to say. In the end, the message notes came together in a way that I was satisfied with. You can read about what I spoke on in the post below, entitled "Living in Anticipation,"
OR you can listen to it here: http://jpbible.com/sermons-mp3.asp?xml=216&loadfile=true&TS=1340980387000
Part of Saturday night was spent tossing and turning in anticipation. In the morning, I woke up with a slight case of nerves, which fluctuated in intensity throughout the morning. Sometimes, I felt great. Other times, I was wracked with fear. My greatest desire was just to block out negative thoughts and maintain a manageable level of anxiety. I definitely spent a lot of time in prayer.
I arrived early to the church itself, apart from my family, so that I could get my wireless microphone set up, verify that the PowerPoint was what I wanted, and pray with my pastor. People kept telling me that I would do great, because God was on my side. This kind of freaked me out a bit. Really, it hurt my pride. "What about my abilities?" I subtly thought to myself. It suggested that I had to be trusting God to an uncomfortable degree. Novel idea, eh? But faith is hard. In the end, I kept returning to the fact that this was God’s message, for his glory, prayers would be answered, and no matter how it came out, God’s will would be done. I am so thankful that I get to be in fellowship with a body of believers who encouraged me in love and truth, and these thoughts gave me peace as I sat with my family through worship, announcements, and communion and anticipated delivering my message.
The preaching itself was not what I had envisioned during my mental practice in the days previous. I found, as always, that actually having an audience with faces, and eyes, and opinions sitting before me made clear-thinking significantly more difficult. And you know what? Preaching to older people is daunting. For me, there’s always the looming fear of what Paul warns Timothy about in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” While I've never doubted my ability to be an example in these ways, it seems to me that receptivity to teaching requires respect, and age difference has a big effect upon respect. Being younger than the majority of listeners, even if I preached with wisdom, clarity, and conviction, it would take time for me to be confident that they trusted me as a teacher and that I had earned their respect. These are just some psychological considerations that I love to study, understand, and work through.
The first thing out of my mouth made everyone laugh, which is, fortunately, what I intended. Starting with humor is always a good way to break the ice, alleviate nerves, and make the audience more comfortable with you. Throughout the message, my main goal was to take as much time as I needed to look at, and think through, each point on my notes. I had to be calm, not overly expressive, and just say what I knew I needed to say. No need trying to get elaborate or carried off in theatrical antics. My personality leans towards that kind of thing when I’m in front of people, but that stuff can get distracting and can detract from the message if it isn’t sincere. It was encouraging that a few heads nodded in agreement at times, but people were mostly straight-faced and still. Maybe that's how they always are, even in front of our pastor, but I was not happy about it. I guess I wanted people throwing up their hands and saying "Amen!" Even a few tears would have been nice. Of course, I'm only joking.
Afterwards, most everyone said that it was a good message, that it had blessed them, and that I did a good job. I tried with all of my might not to read into anyone’s good wishes, wondering if they were sincere or just being nice. I knew I could have said more, and I could have said it better. It was brief. People say I don’t look nervous at all when I’m up front, but I was, and I knew that it had an effect. In the end, I was most proud of my alliterative points, because they seemed to be catchy and memorable. I repeated them often, but my mom assured me that I didn’t sound redundant. I was most disappointed with the same thing I struggle with at youth group: sticking a toe into too many new realms that, though relevant, could probably use more elaboration. The vein of my discussions tend to be webby, fibrous, and expansive, but not very deep. Oh, and I didn't ask enough questions. Though I opened with a question, I forgot to include more thought-provoking questions throughout my sermon, which are good for getting listeners engaged and thinking about your topic.
Is sermonizing for me? Is it something I see myself doing for the rest of my life? At this point, I'd have to say no. Preaching does not suit my personality or temperament, and the whole process is quite frustrating and draining for me. On occasion, I would love to speak in front of crowds, but I want to speak on something that I get to be an expert about, and it's hard to become an expert on something new each week. I'll be a shepherd to my family, but for now, sermonizing for a whole church has just been a great learning experience. I praise God for answering prayer and seeing me through this wonderful opportunity I've been given to learn, grow, and be used by him. May I be active, ardent, and armored in my anticipation for you, Lord! Come again quickly!