I am no stranger to platforms, or to speech delivery. I occupied a number of leadership positions in the past, which helped me acquire some presentation skills. I learned how to avoid a shaking or cracking voice when delivering an address. And I also learned how to maintain eye contact and use proper gestures. But all my learning didn’t prepare me for what I experienced a few Sundays ago. I had been asked by my pastor to preach for the first time at Trinity Baptist Church. And I said yes.
After overcoming the initial shock that came with the request, I settled to read some articles and listen to some podcasts on preaching. I needed some form of reminder about the importance of preaching in the Christian faith. Reformed churches have a high view of preaching, and I needed to be reminded about how serious the business of preaching is.
Then I put myself to work. I decided upon a text and spent a considerable amount of time studying it. I followed a friend’s advice to write a sermon manuscript. I had never written a sermon manuscript before, despite the fact that I preached a few times in my campus fellowship before embracing Reformed theology. (Back then I believed that preparing beforehand the exact words to say was an attempt to stifle the Spirit’s work.) Preparing a manuscript was an incredible experience. I had never written so many words in a single document (except my final year thesis), nor written with the forcefulness that accompanies speaking.
When the Sunday that I was to preach came, I was anxious. I probably said a prayer every ten minutes from the minute I woke up until the moment I got to the pulpit. I stepped on the pulpit and had to fight the wandering thoughts and questions that danced around in my head. Should I have worn a tie? Is this pitch right or too high? What if I don’t remember some vital detail in my sermon? Who should I look at to be encouraged? Who seems to be the liveliest person in this audience? I should probably look at the wall straight in front of me.
Behind the thoughts and questions, I was genuinely scared. I feared that I was going to make so many mistakes and that my preparation was not going to be of much use to me. But my fears proved to be unfounded. As I progressed into my preaching, I realized I had little need for my manuscript. I shared with a friend a few days later: “I felt carried by the Holy Spirit (literally).” My three-point sermon didn’t feel like a three-point sermon. The pitch of voice didn’t disturb me. And I didn’t forget the details of my sermon.
But my sermon was not perfect. It was far from perfect. I have listened to it more than once, each time telling myself how I could have used better illustrations or even had an entirely different sermon outline. Despite that, I am not discouraged. I expect to preach many more imperfect sermons. I know that perfection is not the defining quality that God is looking for in a sermon. That one person was able to say, “I was encouraged in my faith after listening to you preach,” is enough proof for me that God does bless the inexperienced preacher and his imperfect sermons.
However, the inexperienced preacher should never see God’s blessings as an excuse for slothfulness. The preacher can always be better. He can be resolved and more intentional in his pursuit of personal holiness, so that his life reflects everything he intends to preach. He can be better in his practice of sustaining regular times of prayer. He can be better in his study—devoting his time and energies to the studying of God’s word. The preacher must strive to live the life that he intends to impress upon his listeners.
This young, inexperienced preacher has a long way to go. He believes that God has a desire to use his unpolished and unrefined gifts. And he is willing to see the extent that the Lord will have him go. He is willing to go wherever the Lord leads him. Maybe he will gain some experience along the way, or even get to preach a few perfect sermons—if perfect sermons do exist.