Don’t forget to breathe.

Can the choir behind me see my knees shaking?

Was that an “Amen” I just heard?

Whatever you do . . . do not say “um.”

That joke was funnier in my head.

Please, God, help me pronounce this Greek word correctly!

These were just some of the thoughts that crossed my mind while I was preaching for the very first time. My first sermon was preached during Martha Stearns Marshall Month at First Baptist Church, Jasper, Georgia. Unfortunately, the questions, doubts, and fears that accompanied me while I preached did not conclude when my sermon ended.

The congregation was more than encouraging, grateful, and affirming of me and the sermon, but I could not help but worry about what my peers, professors, and even complete strangers would think once they listened to the recorded version of my sermon. Even I was curious! I had never heard or seen myself speak in front of a group of people before. All I knew for certain was that public speaking petrified me. When I finally listened to myself in the recording my first thought was: Is that what my voice actually sounds like? Am I always that soft-spoken? I knew I would never have a booming, tear-jerking, or awaken-the-drowsy-non-caffeinated-attendee kind of voice, but I also was not sure if my voice was that of preacher.

Lies trickled into my mind like an annoying leaking pipe. Was I articulate enough? Gospel-centered enough? Profound enough? (I know what you’re thinking . . . humble yourself a little bit Maria) I like to make myself feel better by saying that it is society’s fault for encouraging perfection and the church’s fault for not normalizing women in church leadership roles. I have no doubt that some of my fear was due to these crippling norms, but I wonder what my experience would have been like had I grown up with more female pastor role models.

Whether it is your first time preaching or the 100th, the truth is that presenting the good news, being vulnerable enough to share what has been placed on your heart, and then being able to articulate these things in a meaningful and truthful way should not be taken lightly. In the days and weeks to follow my first sermon, I wrestled with my own identity as a female preacher, minister, and chaplain. I struggled with how to courageously allow God’s goodness to be expressed through me; particularly through the power of my own voice whether it was heard from behind the pulpit or elsewhere. After reflecting on the experience as a first-time preacher, I realized a few important lessons:

Celebrate yourself: There is a first time for everything. Accomplishing something you never imagined doing before should be celebrated. Allow yourself to feel empowered by the experience, to believe you belong where you have been called, and to trust that what you have to say matters.

Humble yourself: Consider the possibility that maybe you need to hear the message more than “the people in the pew”. Remember that a few altar steps and a wooden box does not magically make us closer to God or more superior to the congregation.

Check yourself: Preaching and ministering to others is hard work. It’s hard because it directly impacts the lives and well-being of others. We shouldn’t take it lightly. Deliberate prayer and accountability should be exercised regularly, no matter what role you find yourself in.

Free yourself:
Whatever is said or done . . . relax. Rest in the promise that God’s goodness stretches far beyond our mere words and actions. The grace of God frees us from being what is quintessential in the minds of others.

Maria Robertson is a third-year student at McAfee School of Theology and a CPE resident at Northside Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.