I find that there are a few things in life that paradoxically both encourage and terrify me. Knowing how much pizza I can eat in one sitting gives me a childish pride, but it also makes me anxious about stepping on the scale. Knowing that my wife loves me fills me with confidence, but it also reminds me of the great responsibility I have to be a good husband. Knowing that Christ has called me to follow Him allows me to find my purpose, but it also demands my every effort.
There are more, of course, that range in seriousness from the humorous to the eternal. And I found a new one last year at the 2018 National Festival of Young Preachers.
The National Festival is an interesting place, as it immerses you in preaching for days (at my first Festival I think I heard over 10 sermons in one day). Even for those who love preaching to the depths of their soul, it can be overwhelming. After all, many preachers at the Festival are preaching one of their first sermons, and none of this really counts, right? It’s all just practice for the real preaching that comes later on Sunday mornings, isn’t it?
If your personal theology allows for the Holy Spirit to take breaks, then sure.
But if you believe that the Holy Spirit is active and moving, always drawing us closer to God, you need to realize something about preaching that I realized at that Festival: There is no such thing as practice preaching.
Every sermon counts.
Yes, every sermon. Even the times when you preach to your dog, or your mirror, or your empty church on a Saturday night the day before service. It still counts because there is still at least one person hearing the g
And that’s not even considering the preaching room at the Festival, where there will at least be three others in the room in the absolute worst case scenario: the room facilitator, the camera operator, and your evaluator. There will also be your preaching circle members, other preachers in your session, mentors, and who knows who else. Yes, those people will be there to support and evaluate you and other preachers, but if we simply see the preaching room as a sterile environment for testing and evaluation, we have forgotten the essence of what preaching is and why we do it.
We preach so that others can hear the gospel, and that the Holy Spirit would work in the lives of the hearers to bring fruit and draw them to God.
This is why I encourage you to listen to as many sermons as possible, not just because you can hear your new friends preach, or because you can learn from the most diverse group of preachers you will ever participate in, or even because its a bit silly to travel to the National Festival just to skip sessions to watch re-runs in your hotel room.
You need to listen to the sermons because you have no idea what God wants to do with you at the Festival. You may go to become a better preacher, but you may leave a more committed believer. I’ve heard countless stories of Young Preachers finding their calling, growing in their faith, changing their affiliation, or just loving Jesus a little more because of what they experienced in the preaching rooms at the Festival.
So yes, preaching at the Festival both encourages and terrifies me. Knowing that I can preach in a safe environment where everyone has my best interests in mind and wants me to grow gives me the confidence to stand at the lectern and speak what God put on my heart, but it also sobers my spirit and forces me to approach this sermon like any other.
Because every sermon counts.
Nick Bettis is a certified Elder candidate in the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church and an M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY where he lives with his wife Shelby. Nick graduated from Southwest Baptist University with a degree in pastoral ministry and has served as a youth pastor in three churches. He considers preaching to be a significant element in his call to ministry and preaches as often as any church will let him. After finishing his degree, Nick plans to pastor churches in Missouri and hopes to one day become a professor of preaching. Nick has attended the 2015, 2017, and 2018 National Festivals.