At the beginning of October, I found out that all Second Year students have to preach a sermon.
I wanted to drop out then and there.
Why had nobody told me?! I wished I had known in advance. I probably wouldn’t have signed up for another year at BSSM if I had known about this assignment. (Keeping it real, people.)
I dreaded Preach Week for 57 days, from the moment I found out about it until the moment I had to preach. I was by no means the only one who felt apprehensive. My fellow classmates had a full range of preaching experience – some students had never preached and some are pastors who’ve delivered hundreds, maybe even thousands, of sermons.
I had preached exactly twice before. (I know, some of you will be surprised to hear this!) But that was mostly on my own terms. I got to talk about whatever I wanted, and I didn’t even have a firm time limit. I was terrified enough to do that, but this was a whole new level of fear!
For this project, we were assigned a specific passage of Scripture and had to preach a short sermon on those verses. (My assignment was John 15:1-8.) We had to explain the Biblical context, cover the exegesis (the “then and there”) and hermeneutics (the “here and now”), motivate the audience toward action or a decision, communicate clearly and confidently, and do it all in 9-11 minutes.
As this assignment was being adapted for online school for the first time, things were chaotic. They often are for this pioneer class of ours, as everybody is trying to figure out how to translate the in-person BSSM experience to an online platform and communicate things clearly when we aren’t face-to-face. First, we didn’t receive (in my opinion) nearly enough information, which got me worried. Then, we received information overload, but some of it was contradictory and that got me worried that I’d unintentionally follow the wrong instructions.
To top it off, I had absolutely no inspiration. No creative flow whatsoever. I actually got to choose between two different passages of Scripture: either I could preach on humility, which felt the opposite of humble, or I could preach on fruitfulness in a season when I don’t feel fruitful.
I went with fruitfulness, because I figured I’d rather err on the side of looking humble. 😉
There were several parts to this assignment – researching, meditating on the verses, answering several questions about our text…and then there was nothing left to do but craft the message.
I put it off for weeks. I had no idea what to talk about! Every rabbit trail I’d gone down in my research had led to a dead end. The stories I thought about sharing that seemed related to this passage turned out to be…not Biblically accurate. Whomp, whomp.
Finally, some friends prayed for me, and then I remembered my pastor friend’s advice to me. (Shout out to Liz!) She told me she has never preached a sermon on anything she hasn’t written about first.
That I can do.
I begged God to help me, sat down at my computer at 10:00 at night, and wrote out my whole message in about an hour. It flowed. It was true to me. It included, more or less, the criteria for the assignment.
In the days following, I made a few minor changes to my sermon, but for the most part, I preached the message I’d written.
I literally read it.
I’m not trying to claim I preached on the fly with two scribbled notecards and Holy Spirit fire, because I didn’t. Two of the three times I’ve preached, I have read my message out loud almost word-for-word, because my mind blanks when I’m in front of an audience, and it’s the only way I can get through it.
Fortunately, I am able to do so fairly convincingly. Unfortunately, I did not fool the student mentors who were evaluating my message. 😉 They recognized that my eye contact with the audience was divided, which it was. Maybe someday I’ll be able to preach without a four-page script. That day was not this day.
We were all placed in randomized Zoom breakout rooms with four other students (Second Year students) and two student mentors (Third Year students). Each presenter was evaluated by both student mentors, plus two students. Everyone was so kind and loving with their feedback – God bless them and Bethel’s culture of honor.
After preaching and being evaluated, we then had to evaluate ourselves. We were instructed to record ourselves while preaching and watch it back later. This may have been the part I dreaded the most! Not only do I loathe the spotlight, but I don’t particularly like the sound of my own voice, and I hate rewatching myself because I’m my own worst critic.
Actually, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. No, I’m not the next President of the United States or anything, but I came across more confidently than I had supposed! It wasn’t nearly as cringeworthy as I was bracing myself for. Sure, there’s room for improvement (and I’m still not crazy about the sound of my own voice), but it could’ve gone much worse. I ended up doing better than I thought.
I survived! That was my goal, and I did it. Preach week: check. (A checkmark I never wanted to have on my list! 😉)
If you’re considering Second Year at BSSM, be forewarned! I wish I had been.
But also, be encouraged! You will survive. It’s a one-time thing. You’ll get through it and move on. I’m not even that traumatized. 😉 I kid, but seriously…it could have been bad.
Preach week, I’m glad you are over, but I guess you weren’t as awful as I fantasized.