January 12, 2012
Thursday, 12:30 p.m.
Letter #208: Way Out of Season
It’s 1:00 p.m. on Friday, January 6, 2012, and I’ve reserved my seat in the front row of our Church Leadership Class. Back after a two-week break for the Department of Correction’s version of a Charlie Brown Christmas (except of course, that Charlie Brown at least had a tree), the class is on the home-stretch, nearing the finish line.
Prior to the Christmas break, I’d been actively engaged (normally, that has a nice “ring” to it) in the class, complete with its homework assignments—such as the study of John 21:15–17 I recently sent. Besides going through a basic (is there such thing?) course of homiletics, the class is designed to encourage the preaching and teaching gifts of the men in our church.
Though I haven’t felt a specific call of God on my life to preach but rather to prepare and equip others to do so, I enjoy preparing and bringing a message. When a list was circulated among the class participants to determine who was interested in preaching, I signed up. The opportunity to preach in front of the small 30-member class was appealing. Only one or two of them have ever heard me preach, and that was three years ago now in the chapel at Salinas Valley. Even I don’t remember it. (Kidding: my best friend, James, tag-teamed that message with me.) Since then, I’ve led Bible Studies, giving very sermon-worthy messages, but nothing in the chapel’s services. I look forward to the challenge here of preparing and delivering a short (by our full-length one-hour sermon standard) 15-minute message to the class. I know that they but had to hear me, and I’d get invited to preach in a chapel service. Or … so I thought, in a not altogether humble appraisal of my speaking abilities.
Now, sitting in the class, I heard the facilitator read off my name. “Christopher. Come on up and bless us; you get the next 15 minutes.” Problem was, at Florence Correctional Center, though I came to every service with two sermons prepared, I was the only member of the Executive Body not asked to preach. Today, somewhere between 179 pieces of correspondence I sent out in December and way too many sweets and a three-day visit from my parents, the notation in my Day Planner to “Prepare Sermon for Leadership Class” got … well … forgotten. Forgotten?!? I give an enthusiastic smile, raise my eyebrows. “Me? Great!” It’s better to plunge ahead, unprepared, I decide, than for the alternative to happen: 1) I state that I am unprepared. 2) I am told to be prepared to “preach in season and out of season.” 3) I have to preach regardless. It is precisely at this point that I wonder if it is even fair for me to ask God to please help me. I am the unprepared bridesmaid with no oil in my lamp, and the bridegroom just returned. Awkward.
My family letter. I’d just speak about what I wrote in last night’s letter. It goes well. The group was with me, I think after it’s all over. Then the chapel leadership gives their critiques. It was fairly awful, they nicely say, pointing out that I didn’t exactly preach. I take in the criticism. A former pastor is kind, pointing out what a great speaker I’d make for church events. I’m disappointed. In myself. Well, yet another blown opportunity.
I write a letter of apology to the leaders—clearly stating that I’m not asking for another chance to preach, I’m just sorry I didn’t do the assignment. Before they even receive it, I get them laughing, hugging me, telling me they’ve read what I’ve written before and they know I can speak. They’re disappointed in me too. “No worries,” the pastor tells me. “We all love what you’ve done with the music here, training others for service to the Lord. The testimony of your life preaches every Sunday morning in our chapel.”
I hate failing. I don’t like to be the bad example. I’d certainly rather learn from my successes, rather than my failures. And even though I’m told to prepare a sermon in the future and let the leadership know, so they can put me on the schedule, to preach in the chapel, I won’t do it. I won’t go and ask anyone if they can put me on the schedule. I never have. I’ll just keep working with the choir, worship leaders, and two quartets. I’ll keep reaching out to those who need to grow in their faith. I will make one change, however: I’ll go ahead and finish that assignment and have a sermon ready, just in case.