BIO: Pastor Judy Huffman serves as the Pastor of Congregational Care at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, IN. Judy has been serving in this role for 6 years. When I asked her what advice she had for pastors, she responds “Have something worth saying before you work on how to say it.”
Lenny: You preached this message as an encouragement to those who seem “small” in the eyes of the world. While all of us feel small and insignificant at different times and in different ways, which fringe groups were you most trying to encourage through this message?
Judy: I believe it is for all of us. I’ve not met a person yet, who doesn’t have moments and seasons of questioning. We question our competence, our training and our motives. We (at least I) forget that it is GOD working through us that matters. Our efforts are merely “activity” until God, in His kindness and grace, breathes His anointing on our attempts. But the beautiful thing is, that because of this truth, we can have confidence that what we have to offer is enough, because of His sufficiency.
Lenny: In my estimation, one of the fringe groups in some church circles are female pastors like you. Even in a denomination like The Wesleyan Church that endorses women as ordained ministers, female clergy are often made to feel small or insignificant. What have you learned that can help other women in ministry overcome the smallness they may feel due, in part, to the resistance they encounter in the local church they serve?
Judy: Keep Your eyes on Jesus and His love for you. I don’t mean that tritely. When someone or some system blocks your path or minimizes your worth, keep your focus on Him. Do what is in your hand to do, the very best you can, and do it with a spirit of gratitude. The only one who can steal your joy and hope is you. Will there be disappointments? Sure. Injustice? As long as you work with people. But that is true for everyone at one time or another. You are not alone. Be honest about the pain and talk it through with trusted friends. But don’t wallow in the injustice. Speak out for right, when you have the opportunity, but speak with God’s grace and goodness, not out of anger and bitterness. The truth is, there are always opportunities to serve God and The Church. If people block your way, God will provide other options. Keep your eyes on HIM! He is the source of strength, peace and purpose.
Lenny: Your biblical material was taken from Psalm 23, probably the most familiar passage in the entire Bible. How did you seek to bring fresh insight into this very familiar text?
Judy: The reason I used Psalm 23 was that God had been using it in my life prior to selecting the text. So I guess I would say that the fresh insight (for me) had begun to come from Him before I selected it as a text to preach. Even then, I was really nervous, because I knew that everyone listening had probably heard a dozen sermons on the passage. I didn’t want to be redundant, but what He was showing me was new to me. I had to trust that it might be helpful to others, as well.
Lenny: Generally speaking, what is one of the most important steps in your sermon preparation? Secondly, what is one of the most unique steps in your sermon preparation process?
Judy: (a) I think the most important step is attempting to listen to God by listening to the Word. I start reading, rereading, reading, rereading, and then doing it again and again in a prayerful posture of listening. I read it aloud and silently. I write it out multiple times. I draw pictures that help me try to capture what is being said. I make tables and graphs and circle words and chunk information until it seems that the passage is coming to life. I ask lots of questions and look for answers other places in Scripture. No truth is given only one time in The Bible, so I want to find passages that complement the primary text of the sermon. All that listening has to come before researching what others have said. It seems terribly important for me to understand what God is intending for this particular presentation of His Word. I believe I need to listen to Him before others. (b) I doubt that I do anything that is unique. But one thing that I do that may not be as important to others is to find a visual representation of what I believe to be the main point. Because I’m so visual in my thinking, that “metaphor” of the sermon helps me see the gaps in clarity and communication. For example, the music stands, representing people, helped me see God’s action and His design for all.
Lenny: Most of the messages I have heard on Psalm 23 focus exclusively on God’s shepherding of us. But you took us beyond God’s shepherding of us toward God’s shepherding through us toward others. Perhaps this was the unique homiletic twist on Psalm 23. At one point in the sermon preparation process did you sense this shift in focus from shepherding toward mission?
Judy: Yes, I think that was the moment I thought, “Ok, I’ve got it!” You know how you feel when you are preparing and too much information is rattling around in your head? And then finally, the picture becomes clear. I think of it as looking at 500 puzzle pieces on the table and then suddenly someone shows you the box cover with the picture of the puzzle. That’s what happened to me when I realized that the truth of the 23rd Psalm was not merely focused on my comfort, but it was about God’s plan of care for the world. And it included every believer.