Thursday, September 29, 2005

Birth (by C-section) of a preacher

It seems as if there's been quite a lot of talks and presentations going on lately among my friends in the Malaysian blogosphere. Over at The Agora, a few people will, over the next couple of weeks, do several informal workshops on various social and cultural issues and proposing ways of approaching them as a Christian. Meanwhile, Emergent Malaysia has what appears to have been a very fruitful session on what it means to live as a Christian in both a postmodern and a Malaysian context - see here and here for an account of what happened. (Would have loved to listen in!)

The night before I left for the UK, I too had the privilege to speak to the youth group of my church. No lofty philosophical issues or penetrating analyses of society however - no sirree, all I did was humbly deliver an exposition on Titus 2:11-14.

Or as my mum puts it, I made my debut as a preacher. :-)
Haha...don't say that to me though; I still feel uncomfortable with that label. Initially I wasn't even going to do it. My youth deacon and a dear friend, Mac had approached me about expounding on a biblical text - he proposed Daniel - and I said I'll think about it. Which I did, for all of 20 seconds (ok, maybe it was a little longer than that) before I mentally decided, nah, I can't do it. I'm just not cut out that way. Sure I fantasised about being some eloquent, charismatic preacher, but I knew that the reality was *ahem* a little different. Public speaking is NOT my forte.

It was the trip to KL that changed my mind. Firstly, this crafty lawyer subtly pushed me to reconsider my decision without ever being direct about it, and then Hedonese told me to just have a stab at it. So I got back and told Mac that I'll do it.

Number of times I questioned my sanity over the next 2 weeks: at least 10.

I decided on doing that specific Titus passage for a few reasons. Firstly, I wanted to give a "back-to-basics" talk as I wanted something that strongly emphasised how important it is that we remain gospel-driven all our lives. (Also, it meant that I could connect with both groups in my anticipated audience - committed Christians and those that still weren't sure about making the faith their own). I thought that the youth group had heard quite a lot on the "what-to-dos", and that perhaps they might need to take a step back and regain a look at the big picture of why they were choosing to live as Christians. Also, my talk was scheduled the week after a big PlanetShakers concert in Kuching, and remembering how my younger self would have been hyped up after such an event, I wanted to encourage the youth group to be keep on going even when the going gets tough. Finally, I was quite familiar with the book of Titus, and it's a good idea to go with what you know.

The entire sermon transcript is sitting on the desktop back home now - this is the outline of what I said. Broadly speaking, I went for the 3-point sermon format...hehe, despite that I think my preaching was more narrative-based that proposition-based. I opted to use the question of identity as my angle into the text - so I started by showing the myriad ways we all answer the question "Who am I?". So for eg. I could answer that by saying: "I'm [my first name]". (Btw, they were quite tickled to know that some of my friends really call me BK. Naturally, jokes about Burger King ensued.) Or I could have said "I'm the brother of [AK]". Or I could have defined myself by where I come from, in this case I used schools as the subject, and discovered in the process that the makeup of the youth group had changed since I was a Youth myself. (I come from a secondary school that has a umm....certain reputation...so it was really interesting to see their reactions when I told them where I was from, and when I pointed out how they reacted.)

I found the segueing from the intro to the main body of my talk really difficult. I chose to do it by stating that once someone becomes a Christian, it forms an eternal aspect of his identity and illustrated it by using an example from the Lion King when Mufasa appears to Simba in a vision to remind him of his heritage. I'm not sure how well that worked. I then quickly gave the background for the book of Titus, and especially on 2:1-10, the text preceding the passage I was preaching on, showing essentially how it was a list of instructions. Then I showed that Paul's emphases throughout the letter, however, was 2-fold, in that it wasn't just a list of detailed instructions so Christians on the island of Crete lived in a way that was consistent with their beliefs, but also that Paul continually made sure that their focus was always on Jesus as God and Saviour (so for eg. 1:1-3, 2:11-14, 3:4-7). In other words, it was both retrospective and proactive (although I didn't use those words).

The thrust of my talk, then, was that our identities as Christians derive not from what we do but from what Christ has done for us. It was on to my 3 points then, of which I hoped would each answer 2 question: what does it mean to be a Christian, and how does this teach me to express my identity authentically as a Christian?

Since I'm not preaching the sermon all over again, I'll give you the barest bones of my talk:
1. People who know grace (v.11-12)
Viewpoint: past
→ Changes our motivation
2. People who know hope (v.13)
Viewpoint: future
→ Changes our perspective
3. People who are being purified (v.14)
Viewpoint: present
→ Changes our attitude
And I ended it by a quickly addressing the question of whether we can lose our salvation (I borrowed liberally from Mike Raiter at KVBC here), and the importance of community.

So what did I learn from this? Loads of things. I was very surprised by the lack of nervousness I felt when I was up-front, compared to my sweaty palms beforehand - maybe that was God's doing. My audience was pretty responsive whenever I interacted with them - I guess it helps that I'm not that much older than some of them. But it's hard to tell; I can't judge for myself how well or badly it went. I thought it did, but then again, I'm delivering the talk! It might be different if I was in that 15-year-old's shoes. Two people told me afterwards it was excellent, so that's a plus point I guess.

I seriously underestimated the length of my talk; I had 40 minutes, but ended up preaching just over an hour. I know how hard it is to keep up your concentration however good the talk is. Also, I know that some of my sentences and illustrations could have been further honed if I had the time - I now have a renewed appreciation for how much work a pastor has to put in in preparing for his sermon! And I included at least one illustration that went over the heads of my audience - I realise now that it was probably more appropriate to a college-age audience than a high-school one.

I also discovered how easy it is to lose yourself in the minutae of preparing for a talk that I forgot that ultimately it will be the Holy Spirit who convicts, not how brilliant your sermon is. It's very easy to become dependent on yourself and forget to pray.

Also, and I know this is often true too of bible study leaders, I think although I may have been the 'teacher', I learnt loads from the text I was preaching on too. There were plenty of times when I had to ask myself: "Actually, am I walking the talk?" or exclaiming: "Hey, I need to practice this myself too!"

And finally, perhaps the most surprising thing of all, how much fun I had. Maybe it's because I was more comfortable with the youth group, which meant that I could banter with them from time to time during the sermon, but I was so animated throughout that I wasn't sure if I wasn't channelling someone else out there.

So did I regret doing this? Definitely not. Would I do it again? Dunno, I think I'm still not ready to face a more mature audience.

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Blogger SK said...

Well done, bro. Eventually we all get there. For me, the important thing is that of retaining a consciousness that the entire process is a Spirit-driven process...all the way from the initial preparation to the delivery.

I study and prepare. And then I preach the sermon to myself, so that it may move/convict me. And then I repeat to the congregation what I have preached to myself.

7:50 am  
Blogger mad_scientist said...

yea, that was a good emphasis on going back to the basics and reminding them to think over why they chose to become Christians.

too often, i see the 'doing' and 'how to do' part being emphasised so much that they neglect (sometimes completely) the real person behind the actions, and the motivations, Spirit empowerment and support needed. Which often ends up producing youths who still (barely?) obey God, though grudgingly and wearily. It's something i'm trying to bring accross to my own youth group, though I'm still not sure how to go about it. (Somehow, we've not the 'fire' and zeal of the older generation, the trail-blazers before us, and i suspect this is one of the core reasons) See how God leads ... though I myself am in need to learn deeper and apply it.

After your experience in d CF and other stuff, it's good dat you've started preaching (pun intended) in your church's youth group. Keep it up; following where the Lord opens the door to new avenues of service for Him and his Body.

In my own experiences, I'd been assigned to speak and have spoken a few times in my own youth group ... I also didn't see myself as a good speaker ...
One perspective that helped me was this: God was ultimately the One whom I was serving, the One I saught to glorify through my life - so I stopped worrying about what others thought, and just put myself at His disposal; preparing and giving my best for His glory.
At the same time, I tried to practice depending on Him ... for the words, points, wisdom and other stuff - letting God be the One who empowers me, who's my strength and wisdom, in the time before and during my message.
With this, my reluctance to speak fell away with time. Now, I start to see speaking slots as opportunities by Him to use me to touch the lives of others - NOT because I'm such a great speaker, but because I let Him use me as His vessel. In a word: By focusing on God, not on my self ...
All d best, BK, as you serve Him back in the UK.

5:17 pm  

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