I’ve been teaching and preaching in church for over 10 years now. I remember the very first time I was asked to preach in front of a crowd. I was on a short placement at a church in Yorkshire, while attending a Bible college in the Midlands, around 2004.
I’d been a Christian for about 3 years, and even though I’d had a number management jobs, and within those companies, I’d also been asked to be a trainer, someone who, on a one to one, or one to many, would teach people how to do their jobs. But preaching in a local church? On a Sunday? Well, this was next level stuff!
What if I misread a passage from the Bible? What if I took a particular bit of Scripture too much out of context and changed it’s meaning completely? What if my, admittedly limited theology at that time, was also different from the church I was preaching at? When would the tomatoes be thrown? Pitchforks raised? Would I be run out of town accused of all sorts of heresy? It turned out I only needed to speak for about 10 minutes, which was a relief because at that time, the church I attended when back home in Leeds, the sermons could go on for well over an hour. Initially, this is what I thought I might be asked to achieve.
I played it safe in the end and gave a short message on ‘having a servant heart’. I thought I couldn’t go far wrong asking people to be kind to one another – we’re Christians after all, this should be our thing! I was so nervous, so nervous in fact that I suffered a dry mouth on stage and literally began to fluff my words. And this from someone who loves acting and who has been on stage many, many times. But that wasn’t acting, this was the word of God, not a script. These were real people, not imaginary characters. So what I had to say, no matter how safe, had eternal ramifications. After several gulps of water, and the longest 10 minutes of my life, it was finally over, and I learned afterwards, I did an okay job.
Okay, however, is not something that sits well with me. I want to do a great job! In everything, I want to go over and above what is expected and take things to the next level. And so began a decade long journey of comparison and checking myself against the standard of so many fantastic preachers. My style changed from month to month as I adopted the ways of the latest preacher I’d discovered on the internet or read the trendiest book on how to communicate well. I tried so hard to be other people, and no one was off-limits. I’d be shouty and challenging one month, softly spoken and encouraging the next. One month I’d be into telling stories and weaving a web of mystery, and another it would be a 3-point sermon as I dissected a verse or two.
The bottom line is, I hadn’t discovered me, hadn’t figured out who I was in God. And so my standard, on how to preach at least, changed depending on who was the most impressive communicator. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we can take this kind of thinking into lots of other areas of our lives.
- Who looked like they were doing a better parenting job than me, let’s copy that.
- Who is the most encouraging person, seemingly always happy and a fantastic person to everyone they meet, let’s be like that.
- How does that person manage a successful business in such a relaxed manner, but the staff love them? Let’s find the magic ingredient, at least what we think is the magic ingredient, and be like them.
There are plenty more examples of people who are seen to all the world, better people – however you define that. Harder working, awesome parents, great friends, super pastors. If only we could be like all those better people, we would be universally loved and liked and be forever joyful. I tried for so long to be someone who I’m not, in various aspects of my life, preaching being one of them. Until one day, I had a fresh revelation: Jesus is the only standard by which I should compare myself. To try and be like other people, who are just as human as me, with all of humanities quirks and failings, only leads to disappointment and struggle. I needed to be me, the one that is being transformed by the Holy Spirit. A person not swayed by other peoples ideals and opinions, but one who is being re-formed into the image of Christ. For those of us who call ourselves Christian, I think this is a good starting point for us all. Every day we must recalibrate and align ourselves with God’s standard – which is His word and will for our lives. Because it’s so easy to fall back into the trap of comparison and envy.
Instead, we should daily fix our eyes on Jesus and let Him, by His Spirit, change us from the inside out.