I should have seen it coming but I didn’t.
Just that morning I had stood in front of the church and I preached my guts out.
I pointed to the road ahead.
I called the people to live with a different mindset.
I unpacked the text.
I invited them to love God more.
I was eloquent. I was funny. I was motivating.
There was just one problem. One extremely large problem.
It wasn’t my sermon.
Or, let me rephrase that, the vast majority of what I said on morning was not my sermon. To put it into other terms, I shared a kind of homiletical karaoke. While the words were compelling; the spirit was absent.
And then something happened that stopped me in my tracks. I got called on it.
Seated before the church board sat a man who held in his right hand the manuscript of the message I had preached and taken the time to highlight all of the areas of crossover from the internet message to mine.
I felt naked. I wanted to hide. I was speechless.
It was like every square inch of air in the room had been removed by a cosmic vacuum.
To add to the drama, the karaoke sermon that I had preached was a candidating message at a church. And while offered the role, I didn’t accept the position.
The weeks that followed my homiletical trainwreck were a blur.
Some defended my message under the argument that “everyone has done it” and as such there is nothing wrong with it. While others decried my message and called for my dismissal from The Wesleyan Church.
Some celebrated the spiritual truth that I presented that was indeed unique to my message. Others scoffed saying that I was little more than a cover band who sounded way too much like a Baptist preacher. Through it all I felt sick to my stomach. Alone. Angry.
I was angry, not at any of my accusuers (they had every right to raise the questions that they raised), but more than anything I was angry at myself for what I had become as a preacher.
I had become a homiletical couch potato who found way too many a sermon on the internet and far too few on my knees in prayer. Put simply, I was a lazy preacher. There was a day that I was filled with passion when it came to the preaching task, but somewhere along the line I became more concerned with sounding eloquent than speaking well of Jesus and my passion had faded.
Deeper still, and even more alarming to me personally was that I realized that I had fallen into the trap of finding my identity in preaching and not in Christ. When I spoke well (which I equated with getting an amen, drawing a laugh or creating a moment of emotion) then I thought I had succeeded. When the message “didn’t come out right” I thought was a failure.
Preaching had become an idol for me and I was living out a perilous pursuit of pleasing an idol. So some weeks later after lengthy soul bearing conversations with everyone from pastors to a counselor friend, I realized that this was not a time for tweaking my approach. Tweaking my approach would have only resulted in a relapse to my preaching as an idol ways. Instead, I needed to overhaul the machine.
So what did I do? As I look back I didn’t make a list, but I did take some intentional steps of action.
1) I deleted all of my sermons off of my computer and burned all the ones that were on paper. If I was going to preach with a freshness then I needed to do some purging. And while it felt like a slow death, it brought a freedom in my soul that I hadn’t anticipated.
2) I scheduled my preaching preparation and guarded it as I would any other important appointment. I realized that far too many of my sermons were being microwaved instead of slow roasted. Far too many of my messages were being prepared in a panic on a Saturday night. So for me, I had to schedule some time every day to work on message preparation and I had to guard that time with diligence.
3) I became a greater student of scripture and less of a student of Warren, Ortberg, Hybels and Platt. When I did reference another source I did all I could to give credit where credit was due. Along with this pursuit of scripture, I went on a 90 day fast where the only book I read was scripture and then after the 90 days I still read the others and referred to them, but not until late in my preaching preparation process.
I purposed in my heart to “preach the book” instead of “entertain the masses.”
4) I prepared on paper vs. on my laptop. This might sound odd, but preparing on my laptop made it all too easy for me with a simple Google search to lift from another message. So the vast majority, maybe two thirds of my preparation was done with Bible & legal tablet and no internet connection to be found.
What was the result?
Many commented that my preaching became stronger with a higher level of clarity and conviction. People commented that God spoke to them through something I said. More than anything I had a deep peace at the end of the preaching task that I had endeavored as faithfully as I knew how to present well the truth scripture.
A Closing Challenge
In the years since this encounter, many a time I have found myself in conversation with a young preacher who is struggling the many of the same temptations that I faced – almost always I shared the same central truths.
– That God has given you a mind to process truth…so use it.
– That God has given you a heart to be stirred by His word…so engage it.
– That God has given you a voice for a reason…so speak clearly the words that God given you.
Written by Rev. Chad McCallum, Director of Mobilization for Global Partners.