Preaching at Irvine Presbyterian Church. I’ll miss preaching to what was for sixteen years my congregation. (Photo below: a pan of the congregation on my last Sunday at Irvine Pres.)
Preaching is a huge privilege. The chance to study God’s Word, to meditate upon it, to live it, to pray over it, and then to share what I’ve found with my sisters and brothers in Christ is truly a gift to the preacher (and, I hope, to the preachees). (Photo to the right: preaching in our two more traditional services)
When I first came to Irvine Pres, there were two services on Sunday morning. A couple of years later we added a Saturday evening service. Then, in 2005, we began our Veritas service, a “post-contemporary” service primarily but not exclusively for young adults. This meant that I preached four times each weekend, twice with digital projection (on Sat PM and Veritas) and twice in the good ol’ fashioned way.
During my sixteen years and three months as pastor of Irvine Pres, I preached well over 600 different sermons. With repetition on a weekend, I preached about 2,000 times. I don’t think I ever took for granted the significance of my calling as a preacher. Yes, there were some weeks when I wasn’t able to put in as many hours of preparation as I would have preferred. But I can honestly say that I never “winged it,” preaching an impromptu sermon.
Well, perhaps with one exception: my Christmas Eve sermon in 1992. I had fine plans for that sermon, but they were dashed on the rocks of joyful reality when my son, Nathan, was born on December 21, 1992, a week before he was due. Three days later, on Christmas Eve, we brought Nathan home from the hospital. As you might well imagine, I hadn’t had much time to prepare my sermon. So on the way to church that evening, I thought about what I would share, more of a testimony than a full-on sermon. I remember that one of my main points was the utter vulnerability of a baby, reflecting on the risk God took in becoming human. (Photo to the right: Preaching at our Veritas service)
Frankly, I can’t remember too much more of that sermon. And I don’t even have notes. Mostly I remember feeling like I was in a fog that night. A couple of friends told me it was one of the best Christmas Eve sermons they’d ever heard. But they might have just been being kind.
In case you’re wondering, in my new position at Laity Lodge I will have opportunities to preach, mostly as a guest preacher. The speaking I’ll do at Laity Lodge involves teaching the Scripture with lots of personal illustration and application, but it’s rather more informal than preaching. I will be able to keep on studying and sharing what I’ve found from God’s Word, both in speaking and through my writing. But I will miss the unique communication challenges and opportunities of preaching.
What are these? you might wonder. As I understand it, preaching involves teaching, but “goes for the jugular” spiritually. Though my sermons did not regularly feature an altar call at the conclusion, I was seeking to lead my congregation, not only to assent to new ideas, but also to receive God’s grace in a new and transforming way. I would regularly articulate the gospel, the good news of God’s salvation through Christ, and call for a response of faith. One of my greatest joys as a preacher was hearing how God touched people’s hearts and changed their lives. Some made first-time commitments to Christ. Others found deeper forgiveness and healing. Others gave more of themselves to the Lord.
So I will miss preaching, especially preaching to my beloved congregation in Irvine. But I trust that God will use me in new ways as I step out in obedience to Him.