This week I’ve had to ask myself some pretty hard questions about my preaching. Here’s how it all unfolded.
On Sunday, I preached at our evening service. One part of the application of the sermon was to mission, in particular, support staff for gospel proclamation – teachers for missionaries’ kids, accountants and business people, mechanics, etc. In the time we’ve been at our church, I’ve rarely heard the call to the mission field given or its need profiled so I knew it was a risky venture but I felt that it was a valid application of the passage and a necessary one for our community and I’d checked it with my pastor.
On the night, I got quite a bit of negative feedback. One person implied that I’d been graceless in my call; another that what I was profiling was not a real need – aid organisations can take care of it and we should just stay here and give money.
I was crushed. I was embarrassed to think that I’d been unclear but I was mortified to think that I had failed to communicate that we participate in Jesus’ mission out of love, not guilt. To make matters worse, I discovered that our locum (temporary senior pastor), whose approval I desperately wanted, had preached on the same passage in the morning and read the passage completely differently. I felt like a total failure.
People close to me pointed out that part of preaching is copping the flak when people don’t like what you say – especially when it’s of the Holy Spirit. That raised a question of my own resilience. Do I have what it takes to withstand that? My assumption when my preaching is criticised is that I’ve done something wrong – this time I thought I should have prepared better / read the passage more closely / spoken clearer / not been on a hobby horse, etc. Maybe I’d got carried away in application and overstepped the mark. I was sure that it was a clear lesson to me on not being proud in my giftings but humble in serving. And it may be. But it could also be a lesson in declaring the word of God faithfully and taking what comes with that, learning to answer to God, not to humans.
Yesterday, I found out that our locum hadn’t thought my sermon was awful after all. He thought it was fine – apparently he quite liked the application though he didn’t particularly connect with my style. And all of a sudden, I felt so much better about it, like a huge wave of relief had flooded through me. Should it have mattered that much?
I’m a classic ENFJ in personality: “their offices may be cluttered but they’re organised in the arena of interpersonal affairs.” The idea of others’ disapproval (humans or God) that can’t be resolved drives me wild! One of the things I fear becoming is someone who is unteachable and doesn’t listen to others. Another great fear is that I will use the Bible to pursue my own agenda. And so when I receive criticism of my preaching, I want to listen to it, to be taught and to check what I’ve said. But every voice is not equally valid. And I need to work out which voices to listen to. I think it’s OK to feel better after gaining a little approval from our locum – he’s an older father in Christ, a good voice to listen to.
Every morning I pray these things:
Give me the strength, clarity and courage to do the good works you have planned for me to do today.
Incline my heart to your ways.
May my lips be a well tuned harp to sound your praise.
Preserve me from the love of power in the ministry you have given me.
But the tough thing is learning to look for God’s approval over anyone else’s, even in these things. Maybe I should add that to the list. How do you navigate this issue? How do you look for God’s approval, above others?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.