March 17, 2006


I've been writing sermons this week. One for this Sunday, and a head start on the next Sunday. I didn't preach the past two Sundays, and it's strange: I feel like I'm missing something if I'm not working on a sermon.

To stand in front of a congregation and preach is an awesome task. I never feel completely up to the task, I never feel that I'm completely qualified, or that the sermon I'm about to preach is complete. And yet I do feel that preaching is what I'm called to do, that I can do nothing else. Sometimes I'll look out at the congregation and wonder, "How is it that I am here, up front, preaching to these wonderful people, people whose wisdom in many ways far surpasses my own?"

Preaching is definitely an act of faith and trust, because if I didn't rely on the Spirit to help me as I preach, the task would be too much.

Usually, I like the sermons that I write. Almost always, I feel passionately about the words I preach. Unfortunately for me, the introverted preacher, only about half of that passion is communicated to my listeners. (Nine years ago my seminary professor said my sermons were very good, but that I preach with only about 25% of the energy level that I'm capable of. So if I'm at 50%, which I hope I am, then I've made good progress.)

When I get the chance, I love to listen to preachers who are able to communicate all the passion they feel about the words they are preaching. In January I heard James Forbes preach --- wow, that's a way to preach! In college, I got to hear my friend T.J. Bottoms preach at All People's Christian Church in South Central L.A. T.J. died of a brain anyerism a few years after that; man, I sure miss his preaching. Alvin Jackson came to southern California to preach at my college. He, too, was good.

I'll never preach like any of those. They come out of the African-American churches where preaching is traditionally high-energy and responsive, and that's just not me. It wouldn't be authentic to who I am. But other preachers express their passion in other ways. Fred Craddock is a quiet, soft-spoken old man whose preaching is nevertheless filled with passion. Ray Buckley tells stories of his life and his faith in quiet, almost hushed tones, and yet the power of his message is overwhelming.

I'll go to great lengths to hear a good sermon. Sharon Watkins, my denomination's new general minister, is preaching this weekend at Chapman University; when I first heard that she'd be there, I was all set to make the seven hour drive to southern California to hear her, until I found out that she'll be here in nothern California next month, preaching at our region's Annual Meeting.

Last Sunday, I got to hear my good friend Michael preach. It was only his second Sunday at his new church, and he's still getting to know the people, so there was a little hesitation on his part. The message was good, but the best part came halfway through the sermon when Michael began to sing. Michael has an awesome singing voice, and sometimes the passion a preacher feels can only be expressed in song. I've broken into song myself once or twice during a sermon, although I don't think it sounded anything like Michael's singing.

This Sunday, I'll be back, preaching to a group of people that have, in many ways, become my family over the past six years that I've been their pastor. The task is still intimidating, but there is no other place I'd rather be.


see-through faith said...

loved this.

I miss preaching but God's busy at work in me. That's good too

Anonymous said...


Great post! I especially loved the part about being an "introverted preacher." I am not a preacher (yet -- considering seminary because the call is an itch that won't leave), but I have to tell you a little story.

I am a member of Toastmasters and we are currently in our spring contest cycle, part of which includes speechmaking. We had 3 contestants this time (not me, alas), two who were fairly exuberant in their delivery, to the point of making the audience jump in surprise at inappropriate moments. The winner? The third contestant, a rather soft-spoken, restrained person. It wasn't her gestures that made the speech, it was the honesty and sincerity in her delivery. Something in her speech resonated with the audience.

So don't worry about your style -- apparently, your congregation likes it and you've become twice as good since your early days! You are also a master storyteller, and I enjoy your blog immensely, so just keep doing what you're doing. God is using your talents well.