(Not A) Golden Mouth

I’m hoping some day preaching becomes the kind fluid movement for me that other people in their professions seem to acquire with their skills of necessity. You know, where the person is so keyed in that it doesn’t even look like they’re doing what they are doing? Where the professor is so well-versed in pedagogy that it is more of a reflex than an intentional response. Now, I’ve seen a few preachers who had this kind of golden-mouth style to speaking and teaching the Scriptures (most of them being women). These preachers incorporated the deep experience of the truth they share along side the the ability to say the profound in a way that seemed so simple you wonder why you hadn’t thought of it like that before. For now, every time I stand in front of people to ‘preach’ I do so with a self-awareness, almost an awkwardness, that makes it difficult to communicate.  Where the hearer may say, “wow, you said something so simple and yet, somehow I feel like I understand it less now.”

Preaching for me feels a lot like standing naked in front of a group of people. While nudity in the pulpit has been done before (OT prophets anyone?), trying to convince people that they should be thinking about some other topic and not about the fact that you are naked would be difficult to do. For the record, I do actually wear clothes when I preach. And in a way preaching has this kind of powerless edge to it, as though to say where I hope those who listen hear the heart behind the words and don’t pay too much attention to the fact that I deliver a sermon with about as much finesse as Napoleon Dynamite’s last dance scene. AWKWARD. By the end of my sermons I usually feel one of at least three things: a) I should high-five people for them making it through to the other end (“wow, you really are strong for sitting through those 20 mins!”); b) I should bury my head for shame of what I just shared about myself (did those words really just come out?); or c) run for cover because surely an offense was made somewhere in all those words and if I duck under a pew maybe people will forget about it!

I think one of the things I wrestle with still is the fact that preparing for Sunday morning still takes A LOT of effort for me (definitely not one of those reflexes just yet). By Sunday I feel like I’m kind of pouring out my soul to the world, so shouldn’t everyone feel so strongly and passionately about this as I do!? Obviously, a response like that isn’t fair or even possible, but I find myself feeling this huge exhale by my last sentence on Sunday morning that isn’t necessarily pleasing. It’s like this huge build up all week to a climax that ends in disappointment. One of my responses is to go back and try to redo what I said in my head, how could I have said this better, more clearly, etc. Part of this is (if I am open here) that I struggle with trusting the Holy Spirit to do its work (what, it’s not all up to me?!). And part of it is simply that I feel really vulnerable by the end, like I laid my soul bare (back to the naked theme again). I don’t think I want that vulnerability to go away, maybe I could tone it down or utilize it better, but I do want to have a stronger sense that this was the right thing to say, the right way to say it and the right timing. I want to have more confidence that Christ is behind the words, in front of the words, and inside of the words and that I can learn how to preach like these “golden mouths” I admire. I’ve got my work cut out for me to say the least, but fortunately we are a part of a very gracious community of people who have been very supportive.

I should also say that besides some of these anxieties, there are actually some things I really love about preaching. I will share those with you soon too.

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Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

3 thoughts on “(Not A) Golden Mouth”

  1. Wes, allow me to think out loud (maybe more for me here than for you). As I read this, I kept thinking to myself, is this really the goal? What you’re saying (or maybe not) seems a bit to mesentric; as though a “good sermon” is based on how I feel at the end. I ask this because as a pastor I too deal with the same issue (despite the difference in context – youth). So often I come home from youth group feeling low because I didn’t feel as though I did a good job and then I get the comment on my FB that tonight’s lesson really hit home for a particular kid. So then I feel shame for making it all about me. But like you say it is a balance of sorts, as there is a practical side and a spiritual side. So I’m back to my question, what really is the goal?

  2. Ryan,
    Yes, you’re absolutely right about the question. I don’t think it’s the goal at all to feel good at the end, maybe confident or “held” as some Quakers put it, but not necessarily good. The goal is something different for sure, but maybe the act itself is the goal (preaching = worship), or maybe whatever the goal is, it has more to do with things that cannot be measured and that’s why I’m struggling to measure it with something internal.

  3. Maybe you should say less? As in a 10-15 minute plan, with room to stop and listen for direction in the middle.

    And then again, maybe you should give it a year before you decide to try something completely different. I’ve heard it said that it takes two years to learn an Executive Director’s job. Which is not exactly the same as a Pastor’s job, but there are significant overlaps.

    Holding you in the Light.

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