You’ve gotta preach. On Sunday. Every Sunday. From now, on. All the Sundays.
One of the things people warn you about when you take a solo pastor job right out of seminary is the preaching thing. My friends who took jobs as associate pastors at bigger churches are still preaching about as much as we did while in seminary- two to four times a year. With lots of advance notice and time for research, reading, prayerfully pondering, sifting through illustrations and humorous quips. Meanwhile, each and every Saturday night, somewhere around 1am I find myself in a near panic google searching things like “how to herd goats” and “why do you have to trim an oil lamp?”
When you go overnight from preaching 3 times a year to preaching every week, very quickly you’ve got to figure out how in all of God’s sweet, sweet creation, am I gonna do this all the time, in a new way, with not-boring stories, and not-cheap theology, each and every week. Or at least that’s what I have had to figure out in my vast experience of, you know, less than 3 months at this. (So here is where I should pause to read some of the beautiful and well researched books that really smart people have written on preaching. *noted*)
I like to believe that God is involved and helps me figure out what the heck to say about this minor thing called THE WORD OF THE LORD that I am charged with sharing each week. From my own very personal perspective. For people to judge. Some of whom are still strangers. Some of whom know a lot more about the bible than me. Some of whom completely and totally disagree with everything I say. Some of whom don’t think I am funny. At. All.
But Sunday comes around each week, so I say my prayers and go to my clergy bible study and read my commentaries and draft my manuscripts and pray and pray and pray and then I stand up and preach and sit down and just hope there was a tiny nugget in there that makes someone in that room think or feel or connect to God in some way.
And I don’t have a system yet. Well, I guess I kind of have a system in that whole pray, bible study, commentary, write, pray, stand up, sit down thing I just mentioned. But I don’t map out a month or a season of sermons. I don’t write them in advance. And I am usually up quite late on Saturdays working on edits, okay fine, just starting to put things together. Some weeks an idea hits and I run with it and it works. Other weeks, I struggle. It can be a holy struggle, but it’s still a struggle.
And then there was this week. I struggled through a sermon that just refused to come together. And even though I didn’t like it very much at all, I put it together anyway, because it was Sunday and I had to stand up and preach and sit down. So, I printed it out and readied myself to move on to Sunday School, because, well, Sunday School started in 10 minutes. Worship was an hour after that. I reminded myself that this sermon didn’t need to be anything special, or memorable, or awe-inspiring, it just needed to be true and not embarrassingly bad and done. It really needed to be done.
So it was done. I hated it, but it was done. Printed. With page numbers. In order. And I went to put it on the pulpit and head to bible study. For some reason I can’t name, because I never do this, I decided to stop and read it out loud, from the pulpit, to see if I could make it work better if I just spoke it out. I spoke it out loud and realized I could move a few things around and it might have a better flow, and then if I tweaked a bit it would pack a better punch, and then if I kept moving things, it would have better consistency, oh, and then I could weave that theme throughout and someone was checking the sound system, and could hear me messing with my own words, fumbling though it and talking to myself, but I didn’t care, I finally had a flow. Or God did. There was a pencil there and I had all the back sides of the pages of my original, crummy manuscript, and so I just started scribbling notes. Four minutes before Sunday School. An hour and four minutes before worship.
And that’s how I wrote an entirely new sermon, in 10 minutes, in pencil, standing at the pulpit.
Because you gotta preach. Every Sunday. And some Sundays, God brings the good stuff at the last minute. In pencil.