Three years into school, and thirty three years on earth, and I finally preached my first sermon. I can’t say it was easy, nor can I take all the credit. But I learned quite a bit in those 20-25 minutes, and the more I think about it, the more valuable I realize that experience was for me. Perhaps my insight will change as I write and preach more sermons, and in fact, I’m expecting that to be the case. But what I am offering here are just a few thoughts, some reflection, on my first preaching experience.
The first thing I learned was about perception. I love playing my guitar during worship. And when I do that, all I can hear is what is coming through the speakers (ideally,) and the drums, mainly because I’m standing next to a cornucopia of cymbals. Things work out well. But because of my role as a musician, I’m used to not hearing the congregation sing along as they are being led in worship. Until today, I didn’t realize how much I am missing. While I waited for my time to preach, I could actually hear the congregation sing. For what felt like the first time, I could hear the congregation worship, and it was amazing. It isn’t something that I’ve consciously thought about before, but I realized in that moment, that perception is wildly different depending on where you’re at. I thought that from the front, from behind the pulpit, I would be able to hear everything that goes on out in the congregation. Every cell phone chirp. Every cough. Every laugh. I thought this until I told what I thought was a joke. Oh, how I was wrong.
I didn’t hear a thing.
Maybe it was an overdose of adrenaline built up by anticipation, but when I opened my sermon with a humorous quip and story, expecting some sort of laugh to break the ice, I heard . . . nothing. No laughs. No coughs. Zilch. I spent the first couple of minutes with what I felt was no positive feedback, and a pair of five foot guinea pigs on the projector screen behind me. Staring at me with their beady little eyes. Judging my sermon. And when the slide flipped over, and subsequent jokes were told throughout the next 22 minutes, the guinea pigs were there in the back of my mind, reminding me of how unentertaining my illustrations were. I felt utterly alone, wallowing in solitude.
But I was wrong. And I wouldn’t realize just how wrong I was until I grilled Rebecca for details about how I did. I wasn’t nearly as alone as I thought I was, because the solitude, it turns out, was all in my head. People laughed. People nodded. People seemed to follow along with what I was saying. My fear, and the judgmental guinea pigs, were both in my head.
The second thing I learned, and this was right before walking up to the pulpit, is that I should be confident. Not because of anything I do, or because of who I am, but because of the message. In his introduction, the pastor told the congregation I would be preaching, and that was my first sermon. But he said something that I realize is both meaningful and necessary. It isn’t about who is preaching but the message that is being preached. Now I’m certain he said it much more eloquently than that, because I was still a bundle of nerves at the time, and I can’t recall specifically, but that is the general idea. And when he said that, I began to feel more confident about what I was about to do. Because I had what I felt was a God-honoring message that would benefit His Church. The last thing I should do is let my nerves get in the way of effectively delivering that message.
And, since I am one step more to becoming a preacher, and all preachers are bound by law to think and speak in threes, the final thing I learned was that I am loved. It’s a wonderful experience knowing that the congregation is full of people who care about you and your message, and are excited about encouraging you in your journey. It’s truly a powerful and loving church that I am happy to be a part of.
It’s bittersweet, the inedibility of change. Because this step towards the future is a step towards a day that I will no longer load up my guitar and gear on Sunday morning and make my way to Fayetteville Christian Church. Instead, I’ll grab a small folder and my Bible, and Rebecca and I will drive to a different church. A church that I can only hope will be as willing to love God and love People in the same way they do at FCC. To God be the Glory. Amen.