I grew up at First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tennessee, and participated in Mission Friends, Girls in Action, youth group, and choir. I now am involved in the young adult ministry at the church. Growing up, I was taught that the Lord calls us to build relationships and share the gospel and that this call is not specific to men or women but is for us all. First Baptist gave me the perfect foundation for the road ahead.
Earlier this year, I was asked to preach for Martha Sterns Marshall Month of Preaching. My initial response was “Sure! Teach me how!” I have been involved in a ministry called Young Life, which is dedicated to reaching lost and disinterested high school kids and showing them Jesus through intentional, relational ministry. I have given talks (mini-sermons) to eighty or more kids multiple times in a Young Life setting, which I assumed wouldn’t be very different from preaching at my church. Young Life ministries are directed toward kids who don’t know Jesus, and so my talks have been about the character of Jesus and our need for him and are usually based on the gospels. When my pastor, Tom Ogburn, asked me to preach, he suggested the text Hebrews 5:11-6:3, which involves encouraging believers to grow and not become complacent. I realized then that although I had spoken in front of people before, it would be different preaching from a pulpit in my own church to my fellow church members, and suddenly, I was nervous.
The preparation process of writing this sermon was very different than what I have done before. Instead of delving into a passage focused on Jesus and describing it in a way that my high school friends could relate, I was stuck in Hebrews. I remember reading the passage for the first time and having absolutely NO idea what the writer was trying to say. Was he really calling out the early followers of Jesus for being spiritual children? What? I had to explore the text in a completely new way. I read commentaries to find out what was really happening not only in the passage but also in the time period. I learned about the context and why the writer had chosen specific wordings. I had to find myself in the passage in a completely new way, and I began interacting with the text in a completely new way. What was the Lord showing me in this passage? What did God want me to share with my fellow church members?
Hebrews 5 is all about spiritual growth, and I knew that’s what I needed to share with my church. Even though it’s true, it’s pretty intimidating to tell not only your pastor but also people who have been following Jesus for eighty years that they have room to grow in their relationship with the Lord. I was worried that people wouldn’t take me seriously. Did I really have the authority to share that with my congregation? Did I have the confidence to challenge my congregation? Was it even my place to offer encouragement and challenge? The Lord met me in the midst of these questions and reminded me of this truth. We are all called to share the gospel using our unique personalities, talents, gifts, experiences, and perspectives. My gender and age do not inhibit my ability to proclaim the gospel.
The week before I preached many church members came up to me, exclaiming how excited they were to hear me. The Sunday I was supposed to preach finally came, and I did it. I preached. Although I was nervous and excited, I was surprised by how much fun I actually had! And my sermon was met with overwhelming support.
This first-preaching experience has been so valuable. It made me consider and engage with scripture in new ways. It made me face the lies that I didn’t even know I was telling myself. It reminded me of the faithfulness of the Lord, and how He shows up time and time again.
This first-preaching experience matters. Being given the opportunity in my home church to preach matters. Being offer the chance to encourage others to follow where the Lord is leading matters. I am so thankful to be part of a church that values the calling, gifts, and leadership of women and opens doors to all people who are in pursuit of what the Lord may have for them.
Laura Beth Roberts is a senior studying Speech Pathology at the University of Tennessee and serves as an intern at First Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee. She is getting married this July and has accepted a position as a Staff Associate with Knoxville Young Life.