It has been more than 24 hours since I preached my fifteen minute sermon at the 2014 Academy of Preachers’ festival. It has taken me a full day to digest all of the events from the first day of the conference, especially my sermon experience. I needed to let it soak in, marinate, and simmer in order to grasp the fullness of this opportunity.
Preaching a sermon is an incredible experience compacted with a flurry of emotions. All at the same time and paradoxically, I experienced nervousness, anxiety, peace, excitement, and focus, which all culminated into an exhilarating rush of accomplishment tapering off into a satisfied and accomplished relief.
This was my first opportunity to preach to other people (not just to myself in my bathroom mirror) since I was a freshman in college at a youth camp in Colorado. In the several years since then, I have grown in my understanding of the Gospel and in my public speaking ability. Thus, I was very excited to receive a new opportunity to preach and gauge my progress.
As undeniably nerve-racking exciting as it was to preach alongside of many other talented young preachers, receiving a thorough critique from my peers was the best part of the sermon process.
Why? How could receiving a critique be the best part of the sermon process? Am I crazy? A group of my peers outlining my sermon’s weaknesses?
But that’s not what the Academy of Preacher’s Festival is all about. Here at AOP, the focus is on encouragement and growth. They want to see me grow in my ability to preach a sermon. Wonderful!
My preaching circle provided me with amazing insight—pointing out strong points and affirming me gifts, strengths, and personality, which God has so graciously given me. They affirmed my ability to preach, which is amazing, especially considering how nervous and inadequate I felt prior to delivering it.
In addition to affirming me, they also pointed out the weaknesses in my sermon. But it wasn’t about how I didn’t measure up or wasn’t good enough. No, the critiques focused on how I might better communicate the Gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and risen—to my audience. The goal is to increase my ability to proclaim the Gospel to a hungry people!
This focus on growth in a critique gave me pause.
So often in Christian ministry, especially in preaching, we critique others by disparaging their ministry, validating ourselves, instead of critiquing others in a manner which builds them up. We need to grow together in the pursuit of God’s kingdom through ministry by way of mutual encouragement.
We must stop tearing other ministries down for not being perfect. We must start helping ministries become more effective communicators of the Gospel by way of encouragement and gentle critique.
I am a bridge builder who reaches across theological, geographical, and cultural divides to relate to people and pastors in many different kinds of situations, always bringing people closer to each other and closer to God. I am someone who listens deeply and responds out of a recognition of God’s giftedness in each and every person before me. I am someone who cares widely and looks for ways to be attentive to God’s ever-abundant grace in our midst.