Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Growing into Preaching

I had the opportunity to preach this past Sunday at Holy Covenant UMC where I am an intern, and while I have a long way to go as a preacher, it feels good to see and feel the improvement I have made over the last couple of months.

Preaching is something I have always taken for granted, thinking that it would be “easy” for me, as people have always told me what a great preacher they thought I would be. I am a natural-born story teller… telling stories is something I have loved to do since before I can remember. I once even had close friends tell me that they weren’t sure they knew me as well as they thought they did, because like the main character in the film Big Fish, if someone asks me a question, I often respond with an answer in the form of a question...

For me, this story-telling has been life-giving and I always thought it allowed people to see more of who I am, rather than keep people out. But we all learn and receive information in different ways, so it was good insight to understand that even my closest friends sometimes thought my “stories” were too much- or not enough- at times.

Back to this Sunday- for Advent, we are doing a sermon series on “The Unexpected Family Tree of Jesus.” This Sunday (Advent 3) was “Mary, The Pregnant Teenager.” It is both a blessing and a curse to be learning to preach in the midst of sermon series rather than following the lectionary from week to week (as my preaching professors would certainly prefer). It is also good to be learning in a congregation like this one, where I feel that people are incredibly honest- and helpful- in providing feedback.

There are lists of things I need to continue to work on before I become a “seasoned” preacher. To begin with, I have to be more comfortable with the eerie silence of the congregation. The silence is fine for the first 10 or so minutes… then I wonder whether people are with me, or zoned out, or…? And when you can hear a pin drop but have to keep talking, it’s a pretty intense feeling I’m just not used to. I wonder what it would be like to be in a congregation that responded to you as you were preaching? Certainly it would have its cons too (like when you KNOW someone doesn’t like what you’re saying), but I also think it’d be great- and perhaps easier? I never have a problem with silence/worrying about time when I had to preach in class- I wonder if that’s the atmosphere or if they’re more clearly engaged?

Surely these are questions of insecurity as I work through who I am as a preacher, how I will preach, etc. As I work through them and look forward to at least 5 more times to preach before the spring semester is up, I remain encouraged. Because no matter how insecure I may have felt about my sermon, it is good to know that those who were honest before with lists of things to work on, this time began with, “don’t be so hard on yourself- you should feel really good about this.”

Maybe they’re right. But on another token, it is good to struggle through. It is good that I have moved from thinking I “have it” as a preacher, to recognizing whether or not one is gifted, there is still a great deal of work to be done in preparation. For a dear friend so brilliantly reminded me a few days ago, that I should “never stop caring when it comes to the Word of God.” To continue to care is to continue to struggle and always want to do better. God help me if this struggle ever stops.

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