“Pharaoh, let my people go!”
That’s a joke my mother uses on occasion with my friends regarding my first sermon preached. Admittedly, it was not that great, and I did preach everything I knew in the Bible in one sermon.
Prior to coming to Grace, I had eight years of Bible college and seminary training and six years ministering as a youth and college pastors in local churches. With that training and experience, you would think I had a lot of practical training in preparing and delivering sermons. But the fact of the matter is I had no formal training in college and one class in seminary in which I preached one 20 minute sermon. Although I preached many times, I still felt woefully unprepared for the fundamental task of pastoral ministry.
Then I came to Grace and immediately began to be helped by my fellow pastor and churchman Tom Ascol.
The first thing he did was pay a lady to transcribe my first message at Grace word for word and spend two hours working through the 17-page document full of grammatical errors, pointless commentary, and incoherent argumentation. It was one of the most grueling and embarrassing things I had ever done. The scalpel (Tom’s red pen) dissected and performed surgery and fully exposed areas of incompetency in my preaching. While it was almost unbearable, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to my preaching. In fact, it was what I need 12 years ago that neither Bible college, seminary, or two church positions offered.
I have heard it said from experienced practitioners like Tim Keller and others that it takes a pastor five years or more than 200 sermons before he finds his voice/style and feels comfortable in his own skin. In the day of podcasting and sermon downloading where church members can listen to the best preachers evangelicalism has to offer, the pressure to perform and excel in preaching is daunting. If you can listen to Matt Chandler on Monday, David Platt on Tuesday, Mark Driscoll on Wednesday, John Piper on Thursday, and Mark Dever on Friday, then for the that church member, the young and inexperienced preacher on Sunday morning feels “karaoke”. Only a church stubbornly committed to making disciples, including disciples in the pulpit, can celebrate amateur preachers and pitting them against more polished, seasoned practitioners in the pulpit.
As one of those young and inexperienced preachers, one of the best gifts God has given me is men who are committed to making me a better preacher of the gospel. Every sermon I preach is evaluated. Everything is considered: thesis, exegesis, illustrations, application, eye contact, speech, grammar, length, etc. In the beginning, I dreaded that one hour in our weekly elder meetings; however, as I sought to apply the fraternal criticism to my preaching, I began to anticipate those meetings, knowing I was benefiting from an experience in true pastoral training that many, if not most, in my generation are not afforded. The opportunity to receive real, significant preaching instruction and help is a stewardship I hope not only benefits my hearers but also those I may have opportunity to help in the future.