Last month I preached the first sermon I ever had real reservations about. At 11:30PM the night before I finally had to put it to rest and say “it is enough.” Inspiration was hard to come by and I was having a hard time allowing myself to rest in the preparations. I spent the whole week thinking about the passages and I feel like my heart had a direction that it wasn’t communicating to my mind. I preached and experienced another first: my first ever coffee-hour sermon dissection. An intelligent and faithful woman asked me if I would like some constructive criticism and I invited it. She proceeded to articulately point out the shortfalls of my sermon as well as to offer advice for where I could have expanded. I took it all in and tried to remember to take it constructively. It stung. Although I was not particularly proud of the words I delivered, I wanted everyone else to feel fed. I felt as though I had failed.
Reflecting on it over the past few weeks I have embraced the opportunity embedded in this experience. I was disappointed in myself but I have to remember that I cannot hit every single sermon out of the park. In addition, I cannot expect to please all people even if I preach the best sermon of my life. I need to balance my expectations of myself. But, I need also to learn to ask for help sooner in the process when I need it. I wish I had structured my preparation time differently. I wish I had invited conversation with peers before the full introspective examination of the verses. I wish I had breathed more. I am proud of the beginning of my sermon. I was authentically myself in the beginning but then it just unraveled.
I am excited to start preparation for my next sermon. I am preaching at the end of the month on the passage where Jesus teaches the disciples to pray the Lord’s prayer. I need Jesus to teach me to pray right now… to give me the words when all of my own words escape me. I want to be okay with hearing a friend say, “To tell you the truth, I was disappointed with your sermon.” I want to trust Jesus and the Holy Spirit to meet me where I am and to help me in the process of writing but for them to find the space I must structure my time properly. Come, Holy Spirit.
There’s much I to do in the coming weeks, the most important of which is to breathe.
Breathe on me, Breath of God
Fill me with Life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
In Christ’s Immeasurable and Indescribable Love,
Most of us don’t take criticism well. And most seminarians preach crappy sermons 😉 Like anything else, it’s a learning process. Your willingness to examine yourself and put yourself out there when you know you’re not an expert is inspiring. If you continue to breathe, reflect, pray, and courageously open yourself to feedback you will continue to grow and be an excellent preacher. Everyone starts somewhere. Peter has come a very long ways since his seminary days, when he would spend at least 5 times as long as he does now and end up with a worse sermon. Jon is a really excellent preacher now, but I remember his early sermons at St. Luke’s and there were some painful ones (no offense Jon!). As a clergy spouse, I am a very experienced sermon critique, so feel free to call me if you want to bounce ideas off me! I hope your next sermon went better!