So, you went to hear The Great Preacher. He made you laugh. He made you cry. He left you with new insights about the Bible and your life.
I’m not surprised. He is gifted, with well-honed skills.
He left you feeling inadequate as a preacher.
I’m not surprised about that either — though I want you to know it is an illusion. You have every good and true reason to feel hope about your preaching. You love Christ. You are a student of the Bible. You love the people in your congregation. You will have opportunity to practice.
The problem is that going to hear The Great Preacher has skewed your sense of what you should be striving for.
If you will excuse a baseball metaphor, what you heard at that service was a home run sermon, and probably with bases loaded.
The Story Behind the Great Preacher
You need to take a step back and look at the situation. The Great Preacher had every reason to hit a home run.
- He has years of experience as a pastor.
- He earned a PhD in homiletics.
- For many years he has been teaching preaching as a professor at a theological seminary.
- He has written books on the topic.
He’d better be a good preacher.
The secret back story, though, is that you are not the first to hear that sermon. He takes that puppy on the road. Every witty turn of phrase, every story of human struggle, every bit of biblical exegesis, has been tried out on any number of congregations.
He has had the opportunity that most preachers never get: to gather feedback on his morning’s work, revise, and try it again.
Yes, pastors who lead very large churches, have something like this opportunity on a weekly basis.
One I have always loved is Earl Palmer, whom I first knew at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, and then later at the University Presbyterian Church in Seattle. In a church that had multiple services Earl could gather input after the first go round, and work it in to an improved version later in the morning.
And, in a large church with multiple pastors, the preaching pastor can probably spend a disproportionate amount of the week in sermon preparation. With more time to study and write, and more opportunities to preach the sermon, there is the possibility to improve one’s skills.
Contrast the small church pastor, the Jack or Jill of all trades, who must meet with every committee, and visit each sick member, as well as representing the church in community events. That pastor tries to squeeze out a half-hour here and a half hour there to prepare a sermon which will be preached only once.
It’s a longer journey to get Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours on the road to being an expert.
So my first point, since you have only recently taken your first preaching class, and even more recently preached your first Sunday sermon, is to avoid comparisons. To paraphrase the tenth commandment,
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s preaching ability.
Comparison is the root to envy (one of the seven deadly sins, by the way), and misery.
Can You Hit a Home Run Sermon?
Frankly you should not even be striving to hit a home run.
When they set kids up to learn the beginnings of baseball they put the ball on a T and just hope, sometimes vainly, that the kid can touch it with the bat.
And take heart: even the very best baseball players strike out more than they hit the ball. The great Ty Cobb had a lifetime batting average of .366.
So for now, your goal should be to take courage, step up to the plate once again, and take your swing.
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