Although I arrived in US only a month and a half ago for my seminary internship here at Second RP, I have found myself preaching to my new local church three times! I have done two psalm explanations and have preached once in the evening service in this short time. The first two times I went up to the pulpit I had my detailed sermon notes firmly tucked into my Bible lest I forget what I am going to say! I faced the congregation, an American one, with a lot of trepidation. Keeping the time limit and following my outline was on top of my mind. All this seemed like an examination in which I was desperately trying to excel often causing me anxiety.
I talked about my anxiety with my Pastor, Rich Johnston, and he gave me a reply that was simple yet profound – “They need to be fed!” He told me to look at the congregation not as a panel of judges directing their scrutinizing gaze at me trying to evaluate my preaching, but as the sheep of the Shepherd eagerly looking at me waiting for their Master to feed them through me, one of his instruments. This attitude, he said, I must have even when I preach to the elders in the presbytery during my presbytery exams; the more I inculcate this attitude in me, the lesser will be my anxiety.
This advice of his went a long way in relieving my fears. The next time when I went up to the pulpit to give my psalm explanation, I asked the Lord to give me this attitude, which he did, and I was much more relaxed as I preached to the congregation. In order to look at the congregation more, I made up my mind to preach without notes and it paid off richly. As I looked at the congregation from aisle to aisle, I noticed the smiling faces waiting expectantly for their Master to feed them with the heavenly manna. I explained Psalm 85 and by God grace, the church was edified.
Perhaps every time I prepare for a sermon, I must read through John 21 to remember Jesus’ commission to Peter. Jesus asked him three times whether he loved him. After every affirmative reply of Peter, Jesus commanded Peter to feed his lamb, tend his sheep, and feed his sheep, respectively. What else could this ‘feeding’ or ‘tending’ mean but preaching the word(Proverbs 10:21, Jeremiah 3:15, Acts 20:28)? It could also mean counseling, taking care of physical needs and suchlike, but primarily it must mean preaching. And I guess Jesus uses these metaphors to not just command the activity of preaching but also the attitude while preaching – to view his people as his sheep and to take care of them well by preaching sound doctrine from his word.
Lord, I pray that you’d help me have this attitude every time I face your people. Give me a shepherd heart for them so that my preaching is for their benefit and not for the building up of my reputation. May all the homiletic skills that I learn in seminary be always undergirded by this truth – that I am feeding your lambs, tending your sheep, and feeding your sheep. Amen.