Saturday, February 9, 2013

You Are Enough – Period!

 In one of my preaching classes, a student stood up to describe their (see comment below post) preaching context for the sermon they were about to preach. They described the small local church, the working class community, the "low" church liturgy they used, and the liturgical season for the preaching moment. Next they read the text and did a brief extemporaneous prayer. So far the student had been conversational, relaxed, and engaging. I was listening to the same person I heard speak in class on a weekly basis. I was anticipating the sermon to be similar in tone and presence. So I sat back to listen.

However, when the sermon started the voice changed, the body posture tensed, and the entire presence of the preacher became more formal and quite forced. They were rigid and uncomfortable. And the voice coming out of their mouth was not the same voice we had just heard in the intro or in class. They were using what many call a "preacher voice."

The other students in the room noticed it and I could see several of them tense up as well. The student preaching went on - seemingly unaware of what was happening in the room - in an almost otherworldly manner. They seemed disconnected from us and from the context they had described earlier, which was a casual and family centered congregation. The student had told us how much their folks seemed to love stories, but in this sermon the only story told was about a context quite unlike the one they described before the sermon.

And as the student preached I knew the student was doing what many beginning preachers do ... they were trying on a persona that they assumed was needed for the task of preaching. It was, after all, their very first sermon ever preached. They had not grown up in the church but had witnessed some preaching on TV by several celebrated preachers. From this limited experience, they formed their "voice" for that preaching moment.

And it fell flat. It did not sound authentic or genuine. It sounded stilted and unnatural. No matter how the listeners tried, they explained later, the "voice" and persona the preacher "put on" turned them off. One of the students asked if this style of preaching was part of their tradition and the preacher responded, “Not really.”

We follow a process of affirmation and growing edge sharing after each sermon and the listeners mentioned the difference but it was clear that they were treading softly with the preacher.

So I met with the student privately and showed them the video I had made of their sermon. We watched their context sharing, the text reading and the prayer and then we stopped the video. I asked the student to share their thoughts and they liked what they saw.

Then we started the sermon and the student, a few minutes in started getting more and more uncomfortable. I stopped the video and we talked.

Basically the student thought preachers were supposed to sound a certain way - based on their limited experiences of seeing preachers portrayed on film and TV and by watching a few TV preachers on Sunday mornings.

The real issue became clear – the student did not know how to be themselves in the preaching moment. They thought that they needed to “be” something else to get people to listen.

And it happens in more than just in preaching. Often we have a hard time fully living into being ourselves – our true selves. We question whether or not being who God made us to be in enough. We question if being who we are will be accepted by others.

But I firmly believe God has made us to be who we are and we are enough. We are good enough. Whatever God has called you to do and be – you were called for who you are. You were called because you are enough.

We may sometimes want to change who we are by putting on a different voice, or pretending to be someone we aren’t, but the truth is – you are a beloved child of God. God made you and you are enough.

Sure we all want to slim down, color out the grey if it bothers us, or keep hidden a part of us we don’t want others to see or know about. And all of that is ok if we still know we’re beloved.

But we also have to know – really know – that we are enough. We are who we were made to be … or we’re working on getting there.

I know I’m enough … and sometimes too much … and there are things I need to work on … but I am enough.

And so are you!

(I did not use "he" or "she" in this post intentionally as I did not want the assumed gender of the preacher to get in the way of the post. It may seem clunky or annoying to the reader but it was intentional.)

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