Chris was called to ministry. He knew it. He felt it. He prayed about it. But before he could be credentialed as a pastor, Chris had to channel his passionate confidence through several years of seminary training. Bible classes were great and theology courses were mostly interesting, although Chris never imagined that basic beliefs could be so nuanced and complicated. What he feared, however, was that first preaching class.
His group met once a week in the seminary chapel. Each student was assigned a date on which to present her or his first attempt at exhorting to the others ― “practice preaching”, they called it. Despite his past times of speaking about his faith, this challenge seemed to overwhelm Chris. When he got to the pulpit on his turn up front, he froze. He could not focus on his notes. He shook with fear so badly that if his hands were not gripping the edges of the podium, he would have collapsed.
The homiletics professor nodded at him and smiled encouragingly. After several moments of quivering silence, however, Chris’ classmates began to shift uncomfortably. The professor said a few words, first gently and then more firmly, nudging Chris to get on with it. But the sermon was stuck somewhere Chris could not retrieve it.
Finally, in desperation, he stuttered out a question, “D-d-d-do y-y-you kn-kn-know what I am going to s-s-say?” They did not have a clue, of course, and every head wagged from side to side.
Humiliated, Chris ran for the door and escaped the building. The professor was concerned. He summoned Chris to his office. They talked about nerves, techniques, and preparation. Then he told Chris, “You are up again next Tuesday.”
The maelstrom of swirling fear tightened.
Chris hardly slept, and he practiced in the empty chapel early each morning before anyone else arrived at the seminary. Class time arrived too soon, forcing Chris back to the public pulpit. But it was a repeat disaster. White knuckles, shivering panic, and another stuttered question: “D-d-d-do y-y-you kn-kn-know what I am going to s-s-say?” By this time, all in the class could see that Chris had reached his public speaking capacity again, so all nodded.
“Good,” said Chris with relief. “Then I don’t have to tell you!” He made his same door dash and was gone before anyone could move. The professor was on the edge of irritation. He called Chris into his office again, and the words were stern and direct. Chris would present on Tuesday, or he would fail the course.
Tuesday came… Same setting, same circumstances, same stymied student. Even the same stuttered query: “D-d-d-do y-yyou kn-kn-know what I am going to s-s-say?” Those in the chapel no longer knew what to think, so some doubters shook “No” while others who saw a repeat nonperformance coming nodded “Yes.” “Okay,” Chris squeaked. “Those of you who know, tell those of you who don’t!”
Fears and Faithfulness
It never happened to me quite that way, but I am a fearful and timid preacher.
I have spent decades doing this thing I know God has called of me and from me. Yet every worship service is a new challenge, with shaking knees, evasive notes, and memories of what I have prepared, and a sense that these gathered people should really be doing something more important than listening to me.
Still, I am convinced that preaching matters, and that the spoken Word, transmitted through a believing heart and a passionate mind is one of the most persuasive experiences any of us can have.
I keep praying and preparing. And when the opportunity to lead worship and bring the message is there, I do what I can to tell again the most incredible story in all its transforming dimensions.
And this is why I love CLC, and why we keep bringing people together to learn more about Jesus and his heart and the church and its mission. It’s why we connect emerging leaders with seasoned mentors and passionate teachers, all seeking to preach and teach and talk and listen to people that Jesus loves.
Join us in this journey.
Dr. Wayne Brouwer