I enjoy preaching. Most of my preaching experience happens as a guest preacher in a colleague’s congregation. The joy is in preparing and offering my gift of words about the Scripture. The struggle is I don’t always know the congregation personally.
Awhile back I preached for a colleague who was on vacation. I was honored to be asked and prayerfully and carefully crafted my sermon. As I preached, I felt a lack of attentiveness as well as a lack of energy in the congregation. I caught myself wondering, “Is it me? Do I look wrong?” Or, “Is it them? Had something happened within the life of the church family that I didn’t know?” My doubts crept in and even though many said, “Good sermon” as they exited, I fretted over what had just happened. I perceived that my sermon had missed the mark.
On Thursday of that week, I received a card in the mail. The card read, “I sat by my friend in worship. She leaned over to me and said, ‘She’s a good preacher. I am glad she’s here today.’” And the card ended with, “I hope you will come again. You are a blessing,” Not only were the kind words welcomed, but I realized the writer of the card had taken the time to call the church office for my home address. Her effort as well as her words touched me. I had convinced myself that I had failed the congregation in some way. I had fretted over my perception of how God was working and missed the reality that God takes our gifts and uses them in ways that we may never know unless someone volunteers to tell us.
During the January phone conversation that was hosted by Pam Durso of Baptist Women in Ministry, I was inspired by the words of George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. He spoke about his twenty plus years in the same congregation and when asked about what he had learned along the way, he said something like this, “I have learned to let go of other people’s opinions and to not try to please everyone. I have chosen to find places to give myself away and not worry about criticisms. I believe God works in and through us. If I am giving myself away, God is working.” His words led me to wonder, “How can I let go and give myself away?”
When I served as a hospital chaplain, my supervisor encouraged us to enter each room with the thought, “Here are my gifts. I offer them freely.” Then we were to relax and let God work. I too often forget that–the assurance that God works through our gifts. Instead I fret over, “Did I do enough? Did I say the right thing? Did I do my best?” I forget that God gave me the gift of preaching and if I preach honorably in the name of God, God will work through me. When I find myself fretting, I remind myself of what God has called me to do and I let it go. I offer my gifts freely and trust God to use them.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.