Just one thing (when I preach)

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Here’s the disclaimer I wish I could shout out every time I enter the pulpit:

“I’ve studied the text all week, I promise! I saw a thousand different directions in which I could go. A hundred rabbit trails tempted to take me off my path. Ten times at least I rewrote another draft! But in the end, I had to choose one thing. One most important thing gleaned through prayer and wrestling and (thorough) exegetical work. Just. One. Thing.”

I’m a people-pleaser who is part of a profession in which women are not generally welcome or treated as equal. I am very welcome and treated fairly in my church, thank God! Even so, it isn’t able to prevent some of the paranoid fears and insecurities that cloud over me as I begin to prepare for and write a sermon.

During this time, I feel an obsessive need to cover all grounds; to give 110%; to prove that I’m competent; to show that I didn’t miss a thing. I feel terrified that someone might think I didn’t stick to the text closely enough or that I was lazy and didn’t notice many of the truths presenting themselves. So every time I preach, I wish I could shout out a disclaimer at the start of my sermon:

“I’ve studied the text all week, I promise! I saw a thousand different directions in which I could go. A hundred rabbit trails tempted to take me off my path. Ten times at least I rewrote another draft! But in the end, I had to choose one thing. One most important thing gleaned through prayer and wrestling and (thorough) exegetical work. Just. One. Thing.”

No matter how heavily my insecurities and fears overwhelm my sermon-writing process, I ultimately have to surrender to what I have found to be true for me as a preacher.

The truth is that I have to choose just one thing to focus on. This means being okay with throwing out some really good ideas; this means being willing to leave out some really clever thoughts. This means fighting off the inclination to go on unhelpful tangents. I have to trust that the sermon will be more powerful, more clear, and more likely to be remembered in a week’s time if I hone in on just one thing.

So for me, I steer clear of the pressure to always have to present three points or even three sub-points. I use discernment to decide if a text calls for it, and sometimes it does. But often for me, it just doesn’t. Maybe it’s just “my style”, but I like the idea of giving just one thought, as powerfully concise as possible. Meanwhile, I’m truly hoping that I’m making it easier for the congregation to remember what the sermon was about for a longer period of time. I’m hoping that the ease of recalling the sermon will ultimately have a more powerful impact. I’m hoping that the simplicity of it will illicit even more lingering thoughts and questions throughout the week than it might have otherwise.

So, when I preach I search for just one thing, and my search often involves A LOT of wrestling, with self and with God. Still, even with all this wrestling, I am grateful because each sermon is another opportunity for me to surrender to God. Each sermon is another opportunity to trust that God will use me so that GOD is known and encountered. And it really doesn’t matter if I “get it right”. It doesn’t matter if I were to give a disclaimer before every sermon or not. It doesn’t even matter if people think I’ve done a sufficient job.

All that really matters is surrender. I know that if I surrender; if I trust; if I let go of control, then God will be known. For me, that has to be enough. And really, that in and of itself is a job well done.

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