Every time I have to preach, it never fails; negative thoughts flood my mind.
“Who are you? You’re an impostor! You have no experience. You have nothing to say. You have no authority! You are one-dimensional. Every sermon sounds the same. No one takes you seriously. No one believes you. You’re not smart enough; you’re not talented enough; you’re not called to this. You don’t know what you’re doing. Who are you?”
Last week was no different. Weighed down by the oppressive force of my doubts and insecurities, I finished my sermon later than ever because I was too intimidated to start writing in the first place. So I didn’t finish it until Saturday, leaving me less than 24 hours to review my manuscript.
Sunday happened to be Trinity Sunday. Coincidentally, I had told my husband, Lyle, precisely one year ago, as we were leaving a Trinity Sunday service at First Baptist Church, Austin, “Wow. That was an impressive sermon! I find the Trinity one of the hardest doctrines to try and explain. I would hate to have to preach on it.”
So here I am, one year later, with this sermon I’ve written. I felt like I didn’t give it the time it deserved. I felt like I was going in with a first rough draft. I felt like I didn’t say what I was really trying to say. I felt like it was fragmented and incoherent. I felt like I didn’t really give a thorough explanation of the Trinity or stick to the text enough. I moaned and groaned (yes this is all very self-absorbed), and I dreaded having to deliver my sermon, exposing my incompetence. I complained to Lyle, and called a preacher friend the night before begging for her advice. Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that I had to deliver it; it was simply too late now to make any changes. But oh! How I didn’t want to share what I had written.
So I prayed. GOD. Please. Can this impact just one person? Just one person outside of myself?
And I went, and I preached. I gave what I had to give. It wasn’t a great sermon, but it was what I had to offer. And then this happened:
One person. One hug. One teary eyed “Thank you” and even a “I’ve been waiting to hear this sermon for years”. One “I’m so relieved; so grateful to have found this place”. All from one person. One person who was spoken to, affirmed, and encouraged.
As a preacher, to strongly impact just one individual, to help one person on their journey, to be included in even a small part of their story, to encourage growth in their faith is more than I could ever hope for. What a wonderful, undeserved gift.
I’m not sure how or why I ended up here, preaching, ministering; on the road towards ordination. I struggle often with whatever this calling is. But God is teaching me an abundance of lessons. I’m learning that I can’t write sermons for everyone, every time. All I can do is stay true to the text, write a thorough exegesis and pray God gives me the best word he has for me. Even if that word only speaks to one person, it is valuable. I am learning to trust that what he gives is not just enough, it is just right.
The great Joel Gregory, my preaching professor who saw something of a preacher in me, once reminded his class, “Don’t try and write a great sermon every week. Just try and write a helpful sermon, and every once in a while, you’ll end up with a great one, too.”
On this particular week, I was honored to have written a helpful sermon. I pray God will continue to help me, guide me and speak to me in this very important task of sermon writing and preaching. To God be the glory. Amen.
Aurelia Pratt is spiritual formation pastor and teaching pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Round Rock, Texas.