To this day, I don’t understand why people ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. On the one hand, I think we need to hold onto the passions we have as children and not let the cynicism and realism of the world kill our hope. On the other hand, I rarely meet anyone who had such an awareness of God’s calling in their life at a young age that they were able to hold onto that idea for decades on end. In my case, I wanted to be an archaeologist and/or a marine biologist, yet here I am, preparing to enter into my first year of seminary.
Who would have guessed?
The problem for me is that even though I’m older, I still struggle with what I want to be when I “grow up.” I may be married and have a job with salary pay, but my job isn’t where I want to be for the rest of my life. But again, I still struggle with where I’m headed. I see a faint outline of my calling, but the edges are still blurred; I can’t quite make out what is in front of me.
Are you there, too?
To be truthful, I have preached a few times in my life. When I used to play in a band, I would generally dedicate a few minutes between sets to share what was on my heart. There were also a few times on campus at Ottawa University when I would write something to share for chapel and, more recently, I gave a last-minute sermon at a church in the Chicago area for their worship service, as a test, so to speak, to see if I would be a good fit for their ministry.
No matter how many times I may have talked in front of people, however, I never considered myself a preacher, let alone believed that I had the potential to be one. I’ve wanted to preach; there’s just something about teaching and serving people that resonates in my being. This is why, despite my initial hesitancy, I decided to submit a potential sermon which, if chosen, would provide a way to attend the Academy of Preachers festival in Dallas. I thought, “This will give me a better idea of what to expect; of what my strengths and weaknesses are.”
Not only was I chosen, I started to question my thoughts, even if only slightly.
Fast-forward to January 1st, to when I stepped off the plane in Dallas with Tyler, Bethany, and Kimberly, and my heart was pounding. I began fretting over things that, hopefully, were not too visible externally:
Well, as life has shown me time and time again, I was worried over nothing. Once I got to the festival, I found myself in the company of some of the most gracious, loving, and theologically astute young (and old…er) preachers I have met in my life. The first night started off with incredible preaching and set the stage for the rest of the conference: we all were here to learn, teach, listen to, and serve one another.
And that’s exactly what happened.
At risk of explaining the entire weekend and writing a blog entry that is five thousand words long, I’ll cover some of the more key points of my experience:
Each young preacher was assigned to a preaching circle, which meant these were the people you (generally) spent your time with, whether that meant eating lunch together, attending each other’s sermons, or just getting together and talking. There wasn’t a lot of dedicated time to the preaching circles, so there was a lot of initiative required to make the most of the circles, which is why I cannot express my gratitude enough for a group that actually wanted to spend as much time as possible together. This resulted in a lot of prayers, encouragement, and, at times, poorly timed laughter (during prayers, for example). More importantly, I developed some incredible relationships that I know will last for years to come.
Throughout the five rooms in the church, young preachers delivered their sermons to crowds of anywhere from five to fifty people at a time. I found myself enriched, encouraged, and energized by the variety and depth of preaching I heard. There were so many styles of preaching. For example, the last preacher in the room I was in reminded me a lot of Howard Thurman, something I was not expecting (in a good way). Also, much to my relief, many of the sermons I heard were drenched in theology, to the point that I felt (most of) my nerves melt away. (I cannot wait for the videos to be posted on YouTube so I can relive this part of my weekend. )
This is the part that I could dedicate thousands of words to, but to keep it simple, I had the extreme pleasure and honor of listening to Dr. W. Hulitt Gloer and Rev. Dr. Joel C Gregory speak about their experiences in preaching and how important narrative is in regards to preaching. This festival’s theme was “Tell Me a Story” after all! Dr. Gloer’s class was dedicated more to the importance of reading widely and wisely, which not only helps sermon writing but life in general; he encouraged his listeners to dive into various mediums, especially short stories, fiction, and biographies. Dr. Gregory spent more time talking about the importance of metaphors and imagery in a sermon, and how the most important stories tend to find us, even in the times we least expect.
All in all, as I left the festival and flew home, I had a lot to chew on. I began to realize that, after preaching my sermon, my love for theology was not mutually exclusive to preaching. I had been told this time and time again, sure, but it was one of those things that needed to be experienced before it clicked in my head. Thanks to the encouragement from my preaching circle and especially Tyler, Kimberly, and Bethany, I found myself more confident not only in the voice that God has given me, but also the stories and ideas that are put on and into my heart.
I found myself realizing that I may, one day, be a preacher after all.
Prospective Central Scholar