Yesterday I preached at the Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle. Bethesda nurtured and nourished me in the faith. It is the place where I accepted Christ, engaged in rigorous study of the Bible, answered my call to ministry, was ordained to the Gospel ministry, and served as the Assistant to the Pastor for two years. It is also the place where I learned to preach. My pastor, Rev. Dr. Allen Paul Weaver, Jr. is a dynamic, passionate, and educated preacher. He loves Jesus, loves his people, and pours out from the depths of his soul when he is in the pulpit. Before I engaged in a formal study of homiletics in Seminary, I learned about exegesis, textual analysis, voice, and delivery sitting under Dr. Weaver. I am grateful for his witness and for every opportunity that he has given me.
This morning as I reflected on my preachment, and myself as a preacher, I recognized two things:
I am not a "hooper" by any stretch of the imagination. My preaching professor once remarked that I wasn't the most excitable preacher. (He was affirming my voice.) A woman in a congregation I preached at last month noted that my voice was calming. I used to envy preachers who could move a crowd with their voice. I wanted my own signature "say yeah" that would have people standing to their feet when I preached. If I am honest, I felt a tinge of nervousness before I preached yesterday. When I arrived at the church I was told, several times, how the preacher at the 7:30am service tore the pulpit up. I am not a pulpit tearer-upper. But God set me straight. God is pleased as long as I am excited about the Gospel, immersed in study, and preach with authenticity of voice. That authenticity comes across when I preach--whether my voice is soft or booming. Besides, the "goal" of preaching is not to have folks standing when you preach; Rather that they walk the aisles to surrender their lives to Christ and/or have a closer walk with Jesus when they leave the sanctuary.
I used to rely heavily on a written manuscript and my technology, namely my iPad, to preach. God has reminded me that when preaching that I need to rely solely on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. In this new season my preparation has changed. I have surrendered my rigidity and my controlling nature. I have been soaking up God's word, whether I am preaching or not, so that when it comes time to prepare there is something deep within for God to work with. Yesterday, as I mounted the pulpit, I went with Bible and an outlined 4x6 index card in hand. I never even glanced at the index card. This is a far cry from the woman who would previously read word for word from her digital manuscript on the iPad. If it was on the screen, I said it. If it wasn't on the screen, I didn't say it. This, of course, left little room for the blowing winds of the Holy Spirit to breath afresh on that which I had prepared. This is not to say that I'll never write a manuscript again. It simply means that I recognize that the manuscript doesn't give me power to preach; God give me power to preach.
Life, if we take the time to look back, has much to teach us. These are but two of the many lessons I hope to learn in this journey...