I’m in the middle of a placement/summer post with a church in North Belfast, concentrating on pastoral visiting and preaching. Regarding preaching, colerainejane on the Speakeasy asked me the following questions… I thought I’d blog the answers:

How do you think we judge it though – by how we feel, by what people say, by the turnout. Maybe we shouldn’t judge it at all but it’s hard not to? Does preaching excite you? or do you feel more called to the pastoral or administrative side of it? Do you get scared and how do you prepare?

This Summer I have seven services to lead, spread over three congregations. I’ll be in one of them for three Sundays so I decided to try a small series of sermons, to get a feel for what it might be like when I have two or more to prepare each week! The first thing I’ve noticed is that it still takes me forever to prepare a sermon. I’m trusting the process will speed up when the frequency increases, but at the moment it takes roughly three ‘sessions’ (i.e. a mixture of three mornings, afternoons or evenings). That’s two to read the passage and meditate on it, read commentaries, make notes; and one to write the address itself. I can’t imagine how ‘real’ ministers/pastors manage to prepare two fresh sermons and a midweek bible study every week, and still have time for a committee/organisation every night, caring for people with immediate pastoral needs, and visiting the congregational list. Then there’s investing in leaders, praying for the flock, discerning God’s vision for the church, etc, etc… Perhaps it’s not fair to ask all that of a minister? Or at least it’s not fair to complain when she/he doesn’t get everything done to the standard we demand?!

Anyway, to answer Jane’s questions, having preached this morning… How do I judge whether the service has gone well? I’ll give you a list, in no particular order, and not exhaustive (I might think of more later!):

  1. People look into my eyes and say thank you when shaking hands at the end of the service.
  2. A conversation later in the week on the same topic.
  3. Eye contact during the sermon.
  4. A sense of guiding while speaking, adding in little extra bits or dropping sentences.
  5. A sense of empowerment, realising that what I’m saying is true, real and affects me – perhaps God will affect others too.
  6. Turnout has nothing to do with it. Although obviously it feels like a good use of resources if more people hear what I’ve spent a full day preparing. But if two people turned up I’d still preach – the word is for me and those two as much as anyone else.
  7. These are all short- to medium- term observations. There are long-term ones too… I was thinking today of a talk I heard ten years ago, and I still remember one of his illustrations, something that inspires me today. I trust that God’s Word will not return to him empty, and so everything I say could be reflected upon in years to come and bear fruit. (That’s a salutory lesson too!)

It is indeed hard not to judge how things have gone. In the end, I’ve discharged my calling and that’s what’s important – I’ve been obedient and the rest I can leave in God’s hands. I have to say that I do enjoy preaching. It does excite me! Partly because even as I say some things I hear them being said back to me. But also that I believe every reading of God’s Word should result in some form of response. I love creating the space for people to respond to what God is saying to them.

I do get scared. Mainly that I’m going to lose sleep on Saturday nights for the rest of my life, trying to finish sermons. I’m a Myers-Briggs ‘P’ person, which means I do my best stuff – or at least can actually think about something – last-minute. I hope I can train myself to think that last-minute is a little sooner than the early hours of a Sunday morning! But the biggest scare is that I might settle into a sermon-creating rut of twenty-minute talks that satisfy the ear but don’t touch the soul. I need to keep my personal relationship with God as top priority, it’s out of that relationship that anything useful will flow and no other way.

And with that insight, I close once more. I hope it’s not so long ’til the next installment!

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