I think the shortest time I ever had to prepare a talk, was around five minutes.
It was all down to a blissfully simple misunderstanding. A friend was arranging an evening on world mission, with a variety of speakers from around the country, key folk from local churches, and a number of mission agencies. Quite high profile, in a modest sort of way.
And over the summer he asked me a fatefully ambiguous question: “Chris, could you do the Bible reading?” Now’s here’s an insight into a particular subculture of English Evangelicalism: the phrase, ‘Bible Reading’ can mean either the public reading of the Bible passage, or the explanation of it, the talk or sermon. I thought Ray meant the former. He thought he meant the latter.
So we found ourselves having an odd conversation in a whisper as the guests filed into the auditorium.
HIM – All OK for the Bible reading?
ME – Sure. What’s the passage?
HIM – Well, you should know! (Jovial chortle turned into sudden panic as the penny dropped)
I had the opening welcome and song to come up with a reading and an exposition.
- Lesson #1 Be unambiguous in the invitations you give or accept. Don’t use code.
- Lesson #2 I was never so grateful to have had a decent Quiet Time in a morning as I was during that welcome and song. I turned again to the passage I had read and which had so stirred me, and rehearsed what I had found. Making explicit what had been the jumps in my thinking, I realised I had been preaching to myself, and so I was able to preach to others.
- Lesson #3 The real lesson: never stop feeding off God’s Word yourself. Never become a professional, who turn to the Bible for material for others, but never scour their own souls with his gracious, loving, powerful truth.
God was kind that day. But if I had become a professional, or if I yet become one, his kindness in that way would be removed, to be replaced by a sterner kindness in which he withdrew the ability to think quickly and faithfully, replaced by obvious fake sincerity and platitude.
That’s the real nightmare.
And for a bit of fun…. Anyone had a shorter time to prep than 5 minutes? Comments below!
2 comments on “The preacher’s anxiety dream”
Not quite that bad. But one of my very first sermons was on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. I was expected to preach for 20 minutes and I had about 40 minutes of material. I set about culling a huge section that I figured was too complicated for the congregation. Satisfied, I sat in the pew waiting for the Bible reading (yes it was someone actually reading the passage), a hymn and then I was due to preach. As the lady read the verses, my heart sank. I had cut out the main point! I had the length of the hymn to pray and search my memory. The Lord provided, of course.
My training incumbent used to encourage me to do Wednesday 10am communion sermons (five to seven minutes) with very little prep. It’s quite a useful discipline in its own way. He argued that while good prep is the norm, a gospel minister ought to be able to open the Scriptures and say something edifying.