Sunday night, February 27th, in the course of discussion of our vision and future as a church plant, we got on the subject of my preaching. I think I may have been the one to bring it up. Thus began about 15 minutes of what was wrong (and occasionally what was right) with my preaching.
This is nothing new. Every Sunday, I ask Etta what she thought of my sermon and I want honesty. I want to know if I made sense, if it connected, etc. I want her to analyze the delivery, style, content--everything. And she does. Completely. Honestly. Bluntly. But that's how we roll, so it's okay. Many of her critiques have centered around the fact that though I get very excited about the research and the exegesis, which is vital to deliver God's word with clarity, I tend to deliver a sermon that's very wooden and academic, at least for the first 15-20 minutes. But she always adds that the application portion, usually saved until the end, is better and more relateable. And she expressed the same on that Sunday night.
Let's just say my Leadership Team concurred. They were very positive about it and even told how they generally love that kind of academic, in-depth study. But not so much on Sunday morning. It would be great on Wednesday-small-group-night but it comes across as more professorial and less preacherly on Sunday.
Now, I wanted to give them all the reasons for exegetical, verse-by-verse, through-the-Bible messages. But it wasn't necessary, especially to my wife who typed all my papers in seminary. Besides, I had to hear what they were saying, not the words they were using. What they want is not a less exegetical sermon but a more passionate one.
I admit, I'm not a snort-and-blow preacher who slings snot and tears at every turn, but I am passionate--I thought. But again, they weren't asking for flair and emotion-they were asking for passion. They were asking for their pastor to preach from his heart not from a series.
You see, I want to be like all the great preachers out there that have a clever title that everyone smiles at and preach a series that has, at least figuratively, motocross behind me and hot air balloons and Ferraris and dog tricks. But that's not me. So what my people were getting was a seminary lecture because there was a box I was trying to put myself into: the preach-through-a-book-exegetically-but-keep-it-topical-and-interesting box. And I was having trouble making me fit there.
I'm pretty sure Etta said this every Sunday, a friend wrote me a note last summer that said this, and my team said it Sunday: passion isn't external, it's internal. They want me to preach from my hurts, struggles, victories, questions, and needs. They want to see a pastor on the stage that gets them and where they are. You can read my post on plastic preachers and how I dislike them, and now I was becoming one. Until Sunday, February 20th...
Saturday, February 19th, I was done with church planting. Too many things were falling down around me to be able to continue. My sermon prep day is Saturday but this time, I didn't want to do it. So I didn't. I knew one family would be out; therefore, we would likely only have two families at church on Sunday. So we were going to cancel church and go to Denny's. There, I would probably tell them that we were closing the church before too long because I was done. Sunday morning came, I had no sermon prepared and at 10:15 we would cancel and leave. And at 10:14 a very sweet family that has shown they want to be a part of our church came. So I couldn't cancel. Did I mention I had no sermon?
Earlier in the week, a friend had sent me a verse, Isaiah 41:8-10.
8 But you, Israel, my servant,Jacob, whom I have chosen,the offspring of Abraham, my friend;9 you whom I took from the ends of the earth,and called from its farthest corners,saying to you, “You are my servant,I have chosen you and not cast you off”;10 fear not, for I am with you;be not dismayed, for I am your God;I will strengthen you, I will help you,I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.So I fed off this verse and mainly talked about how, though I believe this verse, it's often hard for me to live this verse. I basically griped a little while and bared my soul.
And it turned out to be one of my best sermons. And this according to my team, definitely not according to me. I thought it probably sucked. So why did they think so highly of it?
Because it correctly parsed the Hebrew? No.
Because it had a clever title and a catchy hook? No.
Because I had a Bentley or skateboarders on the stage? No.
Because it was from my heart and an expression of what God was doing in my life? Yeah.
So that Sunday night, February 27th, I feasted on humility. It wasn't easy, but I know it was best for the church and for me. Am I now worried that I have lost my ability to lead, because I allowed my team to critique me? Just the opposite. I believe I am a better leader because I showed I am willing to learn and correct myself. If we as leaders believe we are infallible, we will soon have no one following us. People are begging to follow someone who "gets" them. One of the many attractive aspects of Jesus is that, because He was fully human, He fully gets us. We as leaders are certainly no better than Him.
So, it didn't taste good. It wasn't fun. But it was necessary. Leaders: be willing to hear the criticism of those that are following you. It might just make you a better leader.