One day, I had a conversation with a friend who was seeking to discern whether the Lord was calling him to pastoral or pulpit ministry.
As he discussed it with me, he noted he had mentioned this matter to me several times before without comment from me.
He was right. I hadn’t responded. And I sensed he was waiting on a response this time.
So I prayed an emergency prayer to God about what to say. And what came to my mind is what my father said to me some 20 years ago about whether I should continue in the ministry: “If you can keep from preaching, do it.”
I was about 15 years old. And my father had given me the opportunity to preach his 11 a.m. service. I remember two things about that sermon.
It was the hardest I had ever worked on a sermon.
It was also the first time I received direct criticism about my preaching.
First from my dad. As he made his pastoral remarks, he reminded the congregation of our afternoon fellowship with a sister church. He informed them (and me) I would be preaching the afternoon service. He then promised I would not preach that long in the afternoon service.
This was his only comment about my sermon. Ouch.
Right after service, one of my dad’s associates was first to greet me. He told me how “long-winded” I had become (a polite term used for those who speak too long, I guess). Double-ouch.
Then, as I sat in my dad’s study after service, my sister ran in to kiss my cheek. She said she would see me in the next service, and apologized for rushing out, but she was in a hurry because I had preached so long. Triple-ouch. And strike three.
In comparison to the criticisms I have received about my preaching in later years, this was nothing. Absolutely nothing.
But these remarks knocked me off my feet that day. And though I was able to preach that afternoon service, I was swallowed up in a black hole of discouragement the next several days.
I couldn’t eat or sleep. And I would stay up at night, reading, praying and crying.