IDENTITY TEMPTATIONS of an EMERGING YOUNG PREACHER

An Emerging Young Preacher (EYP) faces unique challenges and opportunities in their development. In particular they face some identity temptations unique to the early years of preaching development.

Few things mess with your identity like preaching. A ministerial student who had never preached once asked me what it felt like to deliver a sermon. I answered, “Sometimes it feels like taking off all of your clothes and going on stage with only a Bible in hand for thirty minutes.”

I am still considered by some to be an emerging young preacher. Though I preached my first sermon nearly 20 years ago, I’m not yet 40. Many in my own church still think of me as the “young preacher.” I preached every week right out of school (learning mostly “what not to do”), and now I serve on a large church staff, preaching more sporadically, which is a situation most EYPs find themselves in. All this has helped me reflect on the unique situation we EYPs find ourselves in, and I’ve dialogued with many of my peers who are frustrated and tempted to get off track in their focus, and I have as well.

Preaching is disconcerting. We don’t know how much stock to put into the encouragement we receive, or the criticism, for that matter. Mr. Fallsmith in the back row says, “Good sermon, Pastor” every week regardless of what we said. We put a great deal of emotion and energy into the sermon, then it is delivered, and then everyone goes back to their lives like before and we may feel spent and used, as if we just stood on stage naked for a half hour and at the end people say, “That was nice” or worse, “You seemed nervous.” Thanks, everyone, I know you mean well but I think you missed the point.

IDENTITY TEMPTATIONS
In the first decade or two of our ministry we Emerging Young Preachers (EYP) are figuring out our identities as preachers—or we are not doing so and should be. Even those of us who have preached every week or preach regularly to large crowds sort out our identity over decades, not weeks. During this long season of self-assessment and self-alignment we face many temptations:

1. We are tempted to classify ourselves too early (as a preacher or non-preacher.) It’s tempting, after a few false starts, to say: “I’m not a preacher—I’m more about relationships.” Or, to say, “I’m a preacher most of all—I love to communicate.” When we say this anyone older and wiser just smiles and tells us to not make up our minds too soon.

2. We are tempted to eliminate experimentation. After a few short term wins, like some sermon that seemed to click—we lock into that delivery style or prep system—and we lose out on one of the great advantages of being emerging young preachers: the grace given us to experiment.

3. We are also tempted to put too much pressure on each preaching moment. We exhaust so much energy, emotional and otherwise, that we can come across as over-wrought and trying too hard. Our nervousness is actually causing this internal pressure, and unfortunately it can tempt us to call people to overly intense commitment at the end of messages. We must remember: this sermon is one of 52 they will hear this year. We are tempted to preach each shot like it’s the Super Bowl, when they are closer to the pre-season.

4. We are tempted to miss the forest for the trees. Because we don’t usually preach as much as others, we are tempted to preach a sermon in a vacuum, and misunderstand how each Sunday or service fits into the whole. Mother’s day is different than Lent. The Sunday after Christmas is different than October. It may be that the teens have just come back from youth camp or a mission team to Haiti is being commissioned, and those church-season experiences should be a factor in our preparation.

5. We are tempted to miss our preaching role in the local church. This is particularly true of we EYPs who are not preaching every week. We must consider how we dovetail with the senior pastor if we are on staff, and how our gifts match this particular church—what it can receive uniquely from us.

6. We are tempted to impersonate. One of my mentors in my teens was a preacher who often had one key prop for each message. I loved it. So I once preached to a youth group in rural Indiana and every 2 minutes of my sermon I brought out another massive prop to make the point. I had a bunch of backpacking equipment in one corner. A huge “spare tire of prayer” in another. I had a big rope tied to my waist and about five other things. I was the “Carrot Top” of preaching—prop comedy at its worst, since they were laughing at me, not with me. We may find preachers to emulate and learn from, but we should never try to co-opt their style. This is what the old-timers mean when they say we need to find our own voice and “be yourselves.”

7. We can be tempted toward narcissism. Preaching itself is easily contorted into self-focus. In what other field would you say that every person connected with that profession, regardless of age or stage of life, should gather in one room once a week and not only listen to them talk for a long time but also commit their lives to following those instructions, with the possibility that not doing so will mean the Creator of the universe will be displeased? This is why a pulpit can become the greatest seat of manipulation on earth. While we need to be ourselves—we must understand that creating some super-ego inflation of our character for people to follow will be sinful along the way and unsustainable in the end.

These temptations must be avoided if we are to develop to our full potential as preachers. What other temptations do you think we EYPs face?

David Drury is the co-author of the books SoulShift and Ageless Faith and the author of The Fruitful Life. He serves as Executive Pastor of College Church in Marion, Indiana. Find him on Twitter.

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14 thoughts on “IDENTITY TEMPTATIONS of an EMERGING YOUNG PREACHER

  1. Started this sermon trek eight years ago…as an Emerging Older Preacher. I can resonate with all those identity questions. Its apparently not cool to reply in wesleyansermons.com, but this deserves some response. Well spoken David!

  2. Good post!
    I love it, and identify with this. I’m 29 and am 5 1/2 years out of college and 2 1/2 years out of seminary. I’m a youth pastor and preach 10 or less times a year. I identify with each of the struggles you’ve mentioned here, every time I preach.

  3. I agree, good article. I’m going through some of this this week. I am the assistant pastor and am to preach roughly 8-10 times a year on Sunday morning. This Sunday is my first and I’ve gone through 4 drafts so far. I’m oddly nervous about this, the first time preaching to my new church (been here 4 months) and in two of the drafts, found myself using $10 words and in one other, I was way too academic and not myself at all.

    I think a big temptation especially when you come out of college is to write academically. You get used to writing papers and reports, and presentations to and for other academics, and it takes time to get back to being one of the gang. . . I can do it weekly with the kids, and youth, but for some reason it’s been difficult to work it for the congregation.

    thanks again David.

    • Yep… seminary is GREAT for helping you prepare sermons. Not so much for helping you DELIVER them. :-) … of course, Lenny Luchetti is changing all that at Wesley Seminary, but I didn’t get the privilege of sitting under his tutelage. HA!

  4. Hey Al – so, an EOP has the same deal, eh? hahaha! Perhaps it’s “young in the ministry” more than anything. Thanks for your leadership in the kingdom, brother!

  5. Our senior pastor is only 8 years older than me (mid 40’s) yet I am considered the “young preacher”. I identified with much of what you said. I came to my present ministry 5 years ago thinking, “I am not a Preacher!” However, I have slowly realized my own fears and anxieties, and I have begun to appreciate the times that I do have to preach now. Thanks for putting a voice to some of my thoughts as a “young pastor”.

    • My privilege, Micah. Keep up the good work exploring your preaching voice! As you point out, when it comes to the age thing–it’s all relative.

  6. I have just become in the last year a’SENIOR PASTOR”. SCARRRYYYY!!!!!! I find my love and passion for preaching has drawn me soo much closer to God on those days when i FIND MYSELF at an altar of prayer STUCK on a particualr passage! Its drawn me sooo much closer to God in tnhat process!

  7. I think many of these things you have shared cross generational lines. Concerning having an identity as a preacher. Preaching is a part of a job description of a pastor. A pastor is only a pastor if he has an appointment. If he does not have an appointment after a while he is no longer ordained. With out an appointment one does not preach. In would be a mistake for young preachers to identify themselves as preachers. Our identity must come from soming other than a task we perform. If not when you no longer preach and no longer have an appointment you may experience an identity crises. Preaching is a task not an identity. Moving from a slave to a child is a great foundation for an identity in Christ. Jeff Luttrell