Preaching to an Unknown Congregation

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

I’ve been asked to preach.  In a church, y’all.  The only other time I’ve preached is in preaching class to my professor, classmates, friends, and family, all of which friendly faces.

This Sunday I’ll be going to a little country church with my short hair, tattoos, and piercings to preach to a congregation that may or may not be fully affirming of women in the pulpit.  Their website still has remnants of SBC associations (definitely not affirming of women) which makes me nervous.  I’m pretty sure I have Enneagram 6 in me which means I’m preparing for someone to get up and walk out in the middle of my sermon.  But these are really the least of my worries.  Yes, the least.

My first fear is time.  I basically took most of the semester to write my first sermon.  I have less than a week to write this one.  I’m trying really hard to trust the process I learned in preaching, but it’s to not just rush ahead to writing.  Dr. Gloer taught me that prayer is first and brooding is second.  Prayer is actually neverending throughout the process.  But you must also take sufficient time to allow the text to wash over your soul.  Ask questions.  Ask tough questions that you’ve always wanted to ask.  Start writing about the passage and don’t let yourself stop until you’ve squeezed every thought you have about the passage out of your heart, mind, and soul.  Then, and only then, can you move on to outside sources such as commentaries and then finally crafting the sermon.

My second fear is preaching to an unknown congregation.  All I know is that this is a small country church.  I don’t know demographics, congregational issues, political leanings, theological beliefs, etc.  All are high hurdles.  Part of the pastor’s job is to exegete the congregation.  Granted, I’m not their pastor, but how do you bring a message to a group of people unknown to you?  The easy answer is to rely on the Spirit.  But unless the Spirit inhabits my arms and actually writes the sermon for me, I still have to physically put words down onto paper.

My current sermon prep stage is the part where I’ve got about 27 different thoughts in my head as to which direction the sermon should go.  And at each of the 27 forks in the road, I’ve got a voice inside my head that only serves to second guess each of those options because I don’t know the people I will be preaching to.  I feel that I’m called to preach prophetically, but I also don’t want to alienate anyone or give anyone a heart attack.  It’s a fine line even when you know your hearers.

Even with the concerns, sermon preparation is incredibly exciting for me.  I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a one-time deal, but turns out it wasn’t.  It’s fun to sit down with the Bible and watch how the Spirit works in my thought process, bringing up conversations, podcasts, Twitter posts, and the like in order to freshen up passages that I have read a hundred times before.  The whole process is life-giving and makes me kind of giddy.

Still nervous though.  I told someone that I’m nervous enough to vomit but excited enough to squee.  To which she replied, “When your whole spirit stops shaking, that’s when you need to start worrying.”

Peace and hope.


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