Just a few years ago I didn’t know I could preach.
I didn’t know I would be allowed and it didn’t matter anyway because I didn’t think I had any gift for it.
But I am and I do. Thanks to God, and thanks to Truett Seminary.
On December 3 I was awarded the Robert Jackson Robinson Outstanding Student Preacher award at Truett. This is an honor bestowed upon one or more graduating students each semester, and to my amazement, I received it.
With this honor comes the anxiety-producing opportunity to preach at one of Truett’s weekly chapel services. Several professors sympathized with me about how preaching at Truett is pretty much the worst place to preach. At the same time, I was congratulated by several people for being given the opportunity and honor.
As I reflect on that day, I thought I would share what I think is The Good and the Bad of preaching at Truett Seminary Chapel.
A video is recorded and put online (so even when the event is over, a little piece lives on)
A video is recorded and put online (so you can never forget any glaring mistakes you might make)
You preach in front of your friends and community of classmates
You preach in front of your friends and community of classmates – who happen to be excellent at biblical studies and critiquing sermon presentations
You were asked to preach up there so apparently someone believes in you
You were asked to preach up there so you feel you have to prove that they made a good choice
You get to preach (and the more you study, write, and present sermons the better you get)
You get to preach (and you will have to devote many hours to the preparation of the sermon in the midst of trying to complete all your school assignments in order to graduate)
Dr. Gloer will introduce you and say a lot of nice things about you
Dr. Gloer will introduce you and say a lot of nice things about you (making you feel self-conscious and kind of weird that a worship service to God has put so much attention on yourself)
Professors and friends will come up to you after the service and sweetly tell you that you did well
Professors and friends will come up to you after the service – and you will not know what to say back to all of them. (Compliments are hard to receive for some of us.)
You get another reason to listen closely to Scripture and the Spirit for a message for the Church
Well, there’s nothing bad about that. In fact, that’s the best part to me. If anyone benefits from my preaching the most, it’s me.
Though preaching in front of intelligent, experienced ministers is intimidating in and of itself, the aspect of preaching at Truett that intimidated me the most was the fact it would be recorded on camera… and posted on Truett’s website…. indefinitely. I was pretty sure the people in that chapel would forgive any mess-ups I might have made, but I was not sure I’d forgive myself if I knew that anyone at any time could go online and watch me make a fool of myself. The Internet is a scary thing. You cannot erase what someone puts online.
While I was up there, sharing what we can learn from Elizabeth in the Bible, I couldn’t look directly at my family and closest friends. They sat on the front row to the left: my mom, grandmother, husband, and two good friends whom I chose to read scripture and pray during the service. I wouldn’t let my eyes go down towards their faces much. I still remember the first time I ever preached in church and how distracting it was to look at my husband’s pained face. It turned out he was nervous on my behalf because he loves me, but it wasn’t clear in the moment and he made me feel even more nervous. I know some ministers who rarely make eye contact with anyone while they preach. Instead, they look just above everyone’s heads, to help them concentrate. Personally, I think some eye contact is good, but while I was at Truett and the stakes were high, I didn’t want to risk looking at the people I love the most and letting my mind be distracted from the flow of the sermon.
An unexpected part of preaching in that chapel was that I couldn’t keep my eyes off Jesus. What I mean is that there is a stained glass image of Jesus near the ceiling on the back wall, and it felt like Jesus was looking down on me. It was kind of an intimate experience. Everyone in the room was facing the front – the pulpit – except me. And I was facing Jesus. Many times when I was referencing the name Jesus or the Spirit during the sermon, I found myself gesturing towards the stained glass Jesus, as if the others could see what I was pointing towards. I didn’t know it would make such an impression on me. It reminds you that God is present with you there. It made the moment feel grand, and accountable, and beautiful.
If you want to see and hear the message I gave that day, you can click on this link to Truett’s website. Thankfully, I didn’t have any huge mess-ups that I would rather hide. You will want to first read the Scripture from which the sermon is derived: Luke 1:39-45…
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
I hope the message blesses you. It certainly blessed me.