“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15
Finding out that I was going to preach just a short time in the future sent me into a panic. I had never prepared a sermon before and heck at that point I had never even prepared a speech in school before. The closest experience that I had in this area would have been the book reports we were forced to give in front of the class and even with those I had performed awfully. I’ve always been a very nervous person when it comes to speaking in front of a group and this was going to involve topics that I believed others in the church would know much more about. I was terrified.
Since the church we attended had so little to do for the children, my mother had started a youth group, every other Saturday, from 1 to 2pm. I mention the time because that was all we were allotted, one hour every two weeks. We were also told explicitly that we were not allowed to turn on the heat or the AC and even though Iowa isn’t the warmest of places, mid-May can be fairly hot at times. None of this mattered though because it gave me an opportunity to practice in front of a group prior to my actual preaching experience.
I asked my mother if it would be alright to prepare a sermonette(A short sermon) for the youth group and she said I could. So now I had a group and I had a time to practice but what would I speak on? My mind was a complete cloud and so my mother suggested that I give a sermon on the love of god. I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the topic, wanting much more to preach a fire and brimstone style sermon but without any idea of how to come up with a sermon like that on my own, I agreed to preach on god’s love.
I scoured the Bible, picked out a bunch of scriptures that dealt with god’s love and built a small sermon around it. All I can remember from the sermon now is that John 3:16 was the central verse and I talked about how god’s love is even better than a parents love because god will love you forever whereas parents can only love you while they are alive. Looking back at it, it’s pretty grim stuff and not something that I am particularly proud of but hey, it was my first sermon.
The next week at youth group, the sermonette went off without a hitch. At the end of the sermon I asked if anyone wanted to be saved and my best friend raised his hand. I still have no idea whether he did so since we were friends or if he actually felt the need to get saved but at the time the feeling was intense. I hadn’t expected it and I think I probably led him in the worst “sinner’s prayer” that has ever been uttered. (Remember we were back at an Assemblies church at this point and they believe salvation comes through faith not the speaking of tongues) I might feel awful about this if not for the fact that I know my friend grew up to be an atheist tattoo artist who does fairly well for himself. My indoctrination didn’t stick with him at least.
So getting my first sermon out-of-the-way, in front of the youth, was encouraging. It went so well that I got a bit overconfident and imagined the hundreds that might come forward at my grandfather’s church to get saved. My grandfather preached at a run down church in Missouri, with an average attendance of 20, so my imagination was far greater than any actual experience that would ever occur. Even so, I was pumped and ready to get my opportunity to preach.
The days seemed to go by so slowly from that point on. What had seemed to be such a short period of time before giving my sermonette, now seemed like it would never occur. I passed the time by reading my bible, studying the scriptures that I was preaching on, and probably a good amount of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 on the NES. If there was one thing that I enjoyed more than church at the time, it was video games, and that one in particular was amazing…..but I digress….
My Grandfather’s church was small and had a small but dedicated group of ultra-conservative, ultra-pentecostal, and mostly ultra-old members as a congregation. These were the type of Pentecostals that didn’t believe in TV, home-schooled all of their kids in christian theology, and saw everything that might be considered as even the smallest amount of fun as evil. I found out after my sermon that none of them were thrilled with the idea of a child preaching to them.
The Sunday finally came and the service went by as usual, then the time of the sermon came and my grandfather called me up to the stage. I could barely see over the pulpit and as I went to put my bible onto it, I dropped it. All of my neatly placed bookmarks fell out as well. I picked my bible up and tried to remember any of the scriptures that I had planned. They were gone, my mind was blank. I could hear the sounds of the congregants beginning to get annoyed and so I decided to give the same sermonette that I had given the youth group weeks earlier.
Only one problem, after I read John 3:16 I looked out at the congregation and saw nothing but angry faces. I tried to speak and nothing came out. I stood there paralyzed for about 5 minutes before my grandfather stood up, walked over to me and told me to go sit down behind him. I sat there on the pew behind my grandfather and bawled. He gave a quick sermon and let everyone go as quickly as possible. After the service he tried to give me some words of encouragement, tried to tell me that every minister has a bad sermon their first time and that since I got it out-of-the-way so young, I would have no problem as I grew older and stronger in my faith.
I heard my grandfathers words and they did make me feel slightly better. In my mind though I had only one thought. A thought that would haunt me years later and would bring me back into the ministry, eventually, years later. The thought was this…
“Well god, I did what you wanted and you failed me. I’ll never preach again and it’s all your fault. I hate preaching and I think I might hate you.”
For part 5 click here.