I love the process of preaching. I love the prayer and research, the planning, and speaking God’s word to his people. However, there are two moments in the whole process that put a damper on it for me: the moment just before I preach and the moment just after. The moment after is one of vulnerability; I’ve just poured my heart out in front of the congregation and I have no idea what they’re thinking. The moment before is a frenzied, last-minute dash through my notes, making sure I know what I’m going to say and wondering how people will respond.
At least, that’s how it had been. I read a book on connecting with people by John Maxwell several months back that contained practical tips for connecting with others in different situations. One suggestion he mentioned was talking to your audience before you get on stage. Even though I always felt like there was one last thing I needed to do to prepare, I decided to try it.
Before the service, I arrived without last-minute prep to do. At least, I told myself, “You’re done now.” Instead of holing up in an office, I stood in the lobby and greeted people as they entered. I joked with the welcome team members. I made faces at babies. When it came time to finally get on stage to preach, I was much more relaxed.
Since that day, I’ve continued to make the moment before one of hanging out in the lobby and chatting with people. It’s certainly more fun than nervously rehearsing. Besides, it offers me a glimpse into where people are that day. Without fail, there is a general tone when I greet people. Maybe most people are happy or stressed or busy. Occasionally, everyone is having serious issues in their lives. I can get a sense of where they are and preach accordingly. It makes my job easier!
More importantly, it helps me to really love the people I’m serving. The morning of my last message, I read 1 Corinthians 13 in my personal quiet time. Paul’s words reminded me yet again, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1,2)
No matter how good my sermon is, it’s not enough if I don’t love God’s people. By spending time connecting with people as they walk in the door, I remind myself that the most important thing I can do that day is to love them well. I believe some people don’t even come for the message. They just want need someone to look them in the eyes and say, “I’m happy to see you.” Warm hugs and greetings set the stage for people to hear the Gospel. When I convey that I care, it’s a tiny indicator of the bigger and more important truth that Jesus cares about them.
Since making this change, I no longer loathe the moment before a sermon. Now, if only I could figure out what to do in the moment just after preaching…
By the way, I’ve uploaded several of my sermons from the past couple years on my Speaking Page. Check it out, if you are so inclined!