When I wrote my previous post about Tuesday’s challenging seminary experience, I had no idea what the Lord had in store for me today. Today it was my turn to preach in Preaching Lab. So I preached. At least I thought I preached.
Apparently, my sermon resembled “a good chapter in a book” or “a book report,” but not preaching. This would be fine if the class were called “Book Report Lab,” but it’s not. It’s called “Preaching Lab.” So it wasn’t fine.
I was more or less tarred and feathered (graciously) by a few of the seven other guys in my lab. The instructor didn’t disagree with them, either. And the instructor’s tar is always the hottest. Moreover, I get to tar and feather myself tomorrow when I watch the video and critique my own preaching (I’m not a masochist – self-review is one of the requirements).
The hardest part about the negative feedback was that it was centered on the elements of preaching that I thought I was generally good at. I thought that I spoke passionately, but that’s not how some of them perceived it. I didn’t think I preached in monotone, but an honest brother said that I did. I know that I’m not a very dynamic person, but I’ve rarely been told that my preaching is boring and uncompelling. Apparently it was, at least this morning. That’s hard to hear when you feel like you were into the sermon, excited about it, and free in your communication.
Maybe I just finally ran into a really honest group of guys (actually, I know that that’s true, and that it’s a good thing). Maybe I had an exalted view of my own abilities (I know that’s true as well – I just didn’t think that I was as self-deceived as I was made to feel today). Maybe the three other guys that have preached so far have felt the same way after they were critiqued, and I’m just experiencing the same thing. It doesn’t seem like that, though.
My experience this morning left me dazed and confused. I could have cried in the car on the way home if I had let myself. I probably should have, because it would have been out of a desperate feeling of humiliation, which is a good feeling to have when it’s appropriate. The point of this post, though, is not to throw a pity party. My point is to be open and to follow up on my last post on the benefits of being challenged and having your weaknesses exposed.
I have a lot to think about. I’m not entirely convinced that I have the ability to preach in the TMS style. It’s just not me. Then again, there are a lot of things that I need to learn and apply from that style. And no matter what style I naturally use, I don’t want to be monotone, boring, uncompelling, uncomfortable, or bookish. To what degree I preach in those ways right now, I’m not sure. But based on what my honest friends told me today, I definitely need to look into it. And because I was challenged, I will look into it. I will be resolute in shoring up my weaknesses in sermon preparation and communication and Spirit-fueled passion.
Last (and perhaps most importantly), whatever the outcome of Preaching Lab this semester, I have resolved to never lean too hard on my own perceived giftedness. Once a man leans on his giftedness, he ceases to labor. He starts to wing things instead of work at things. Now, I didn’t wing my sermon this morning. But before today I had rarely thought of myself as someone who would have to work really hard to be an acceptable preacher. Therefore, I haven’t worked nearly as hard at it as I should have.
Giftedness (real or perceived) can breed laziness. For example, the most natural athletes are often the ones most tempted to lollygag, ignore warm-ups, and lean on God-given ability to the neglect of hard work. On the other hand, when a gifted person works to the point of fatigue at enhancing, practicing, and skillfully using his gifts, his impact in his field grows exponentially. This is what God wants from all of us. He wants us not to give in to the temptation to coast with our gifts (or with anything else), but to constantly push forward both in the things that we’re good at and the things that we flail around in.
Resolve in your heart with me to not coast today. Seek to exercise yourself for the purpose of godliness. Do it in the small and invisible things first. Take small but decisive steps. Push forward. Press on. Strain. Push yourself past your limits, and God will provide you with limitless grace. Today God blew open my box of self-perception. This was my challenge. This was His grace. May a tenacious and enduring reformation follow.