I am certainly not some "great" speaker, so, my fear in writing some thoughts on preaching and speaking is that it can make it seem like I consider myself some "accomplished" speaker. Believe me, speaking in front of people creates more insecurity for me than I'd like to admit. I once heard Andy Stanley describe preaching this way: "Take the most stressful part of your job ... the part of your job that creates the most anxiety for you ... the part that is make or break for you financially. Now, do that every week on a stage in front of family, friends, strangers, and people who don't really like you." Yeah, that sums it up pretty well. I've heard our lead pastor (who speaks a majority of the time at Grace Community) and other pastors as well describe preaching as an incredible weight to bear. It does not, as some believe, create a sense of pride or arrogance in the pastor's life. If anything, it creates an overwhelming sense of humility knowing that, for whatever reason, God has chosen us to speak the truth of His word to people He is madly in love with. That is an incredible weight to carry.
I remember taking a "preaching" class in seminary. I remember enjoying it very much and actually got an "A" in the class. But, as I reflect on the biggest difference in my speaking then and now, I could narrow it down to one single thing ... love. In my seminary class I was in love with speaking. I enjoyed studying the Bible and listening to other speakers and gaining wisdom, ideas, and thoughts from my study and the study of other commentaries and speakers. I loved preparing and thinking creatively and trying to discover the best way to present something. I loved doing that. Now, however, I feel like my love has been redirected. Don't get me wrong ... I still love doing those things. But, my greater affections have been redirected to the teenagers and adults I'm speaking too rather than the "speaking" itself. As I've been at Grace Community for 10 1/2 years now, I feel like the thing that has helped me become a better speaker to teenagers and adults is the fact that I've genuinely grown to love the teenagers and adults here more and more as time has gone by. I long for them to experience God's peace and freedom. I long for them to embrace Jesus' way of life. I long for them to understand that God is with them and they can be an unstoppable force in reaching others for Jesus. Before, I used to love speaking to teenagers and adults.. Now, I feel like I genuinely love the teenagers and adults I speak too and that, more than anything, is what God has used to help me become a better communicator.
One thing working with teenagers has taught me is that you can't really fake authenticity. A teenager can spot a "fake" pretty easily. A teenager can tell the difference between someone just putting in their "time" and someone who genuinely cares for them. So, if you're reading this and you're someone who has the privilege of speaking in front of others, be real. Be genuine. Beg God for a greater love for the people you're speaking too rather than a greater ability to speak. Anyone in a relationship knows that love will cause you to do crazy things. I think the same is true in the church. Love will cause you, as a speaker, to do crazy things like desperately wanting to know how you can be more engaging and creative ... it will cause the speaker to believe that just because it's truth doesn't mean a person is going to listen. I have to work at helping them WANT to listen. Love will cause the speaker to do crazy things like asking the question "How can this truth change a person's life and how can I help them crave this change?" It will drive the speaker to ask questions like "How is the environment of our church helping or hurting my message?" Believe it or not, your sermon starts long before you begin speaking.
What an incredible weight but what an incredible opportunity!