The Sunday I preached my Candidacy sermon I was recovering from pneumonia and had to stop multiple times to cough and catch my breath. I was nervous that this could reflect poorly on the content and a bit annoyed to be feeling so yucky while preaching. If I only knew then how much I would prefer coughing ...
Nowadays, the elders of my church have discovered what my parents always knew about me- that I am a walking accident. Two years ago, the week of Christmas, I suffered a serious back injury while doing a simple exercise at the gym, tearing ligaments in my lower back and injuring my hip joint. I was in constant pain, unable to sit, stand or walk for anything longer than a minute or two. Fortunately, back then I wasn't the only pastor on staff, and my colleague was able to take on the bulk of the preaching for the next few weeks. Even then, I felt a constant pressure to get back in the pulpit.
About a month after the injury I showed my face on Sunday morning long enough to preach, spending the rest of the time- before, during and in between our two services- on the couch in our Prayer Room. The steps up to the stage and pulpit was a task far too great for my feeble frame, and so I preached from the seat level, standing behind a music stand. I kept my hands securely in my jean jacket pockets so that I wouldn't be tempted to flail my arms about and the message was definitely shorter than usual.
That experience marked a turning point in my preaching life. Though I didn't realize it at the time, it was my first experience of letting go of certain aspects of the 'mechanics' of preaching and discerning instead how to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit in the moment. Our work as preachers is a transformative agent for others, but lest we forget, it is even more so one for us.
Since that time, I have sought to be more faithful and open to the Holy Spirit in my preaching. I have experimented with preaching mechanics, moving from manuscript to notes to outline to nothing but the Scripture passage. I have decided to stand firm on the words and have visibly marked that by no longer hiding behind the pulpit. (This isn't a judgment on the pulpit, just a reflection of how it had come to function for me, especially as a woman in ministry who found it easier to stand behind a symbol of God's authority rather than recognize the authority God placed within me.) I continue to seek to be clear and concise in my messages.
All of this growth made the next physical challenge I faced much more manageable. Just a couple of months ago, I dislocated my kneecap while walking down the street on vacation. Again, I find myself unable to stand for long periods of time; again, I find myself needing to modify my preaching delivery. Because I had already transitioned away from the 'traditional' to what felt more natural, preaching while sitting wasn't a far leap for our community. In fact, I probably had the hardest time being okay with it!
In many ways, my physicality during the sermon has become another message being preached, another way of allowing my life to speak. When I am up there each week, I hope that others 'hear' and see the message of faithful obedience, strength and endurance from God, and an encouraging testimony of seeking to honour and glorify Jesus through all circumstances. I am eternally grateful that God delivers me through the pain and discomfort that each preaching moment can cause because it is the same with my day-to-day life- I must rely on God's strength to physically do the work the Creator has set before me.
I am a braver preacher than ever before. I think that God has used my physical limitations to open me to understand how I can more powerfully and honestly share his Word — to think about how I say a message with more than just words. A couple of weeks ago, knee brace securely in place, I joined the apostle Paul by preaching/praying the second half of a sermon on Ephesians 3 from my knees. It felt natural and beautiful and humbling all at the same time. Then, I waited for another worship leader to help me back up because I couldn't do so on my own. That act in itself speaks of the love of Christ in our midst and humbles me yet again.
I am glad that Jesus has brought this good out of all of my pain and suffering. None of these lessons would have unfolded as they did if I had not been willing to share this tender, weak part of myself. And sharing doesn't mean sharing details; it really means not hiding.
How has your preaching changed because of life or physical circumstances? What holds you back from being a brave preacher?