There have been times in the life of Grace Fellowship Church when we have endured some bad sermons. You could even say that in these seasons we purposely endured bad sermons. We heard men preach texts that were clearly beyond their ability to understand and explain. We heard men preach with all the fire of Paul Washer but with none of his depth or pastoral concern. We heard men preach who had neglected to ensure the sermon actually had a main point and an outline. There were other men we tried to hear while desperately fighting the distraction of their tics and idiosyncrasies. We sat through some pretty awful sermons, some of which were undoubtedly mine. But we considered it a privilege. We counted it joy.
We counted it joy because these bad sermons came from unseasoned men who were learning to preach. A man can read a hundred books on preaching and watch a thousand sermons on YouTube, but the only way he will really learn to preach is to preach. Sooner or later he will simply need to stand behind a pulpit, open his Bible, and launch into his introduction (assuming he remembers to actually prepare one). There are not many preachers who get away without preaching a few stinkers along the way. There are not many preachers who can become skilled without first being novices, who can grow into excellence without first being mediocre or average.
A little while ago I saw a video of young barnacle geese leaving their nests for the first time. This sounds simple enough except that to escape predators these geese nest along sheer cliffs hundreds of feet above the ground. The only way down is to take the plunge. Sure enough, these tiny three-day-old geese dutifully jump off the cliff and go plummeting, down, hitting every rock, branch, and outcropping along the way. They eventually crash to the ground stunned. Somehow, miraculously, most of them seem to survive. The jump actually contributes to the hardiness of the species since it ensures that only the strongest survive.
Sooner or later every aspiring preacher needs to take the plunge. Knowing he is inadequate to the task, knowing he is unseasoned, knowing that the congregation is accustomed to hearing a skillful preacher, he goes to the pulpit and preaches his very first sermon, and then his second and his third. He inevitably hits a few bumps and branches along the way. But he also learns the art, the craft, of preaching. He becomes confident, he becomes skilled.
Today, many of those young men who preached bad sermons at Grace Fellowship Church continue to minister in the Toronto area. They are among my favorite preachers and I eagerly anticipate every opportunity to hear them exposit Scripture. They survived and they thrived. We survived too and were able to gladly commend them to other churches as men who can skillfully handle the Word of God.
Young preachers, new preachers, preach bad sermons. They preach bad sermons as they learn to preach good sermons. And in some ways, those bad sermons serve as a mark of a church’s health and strength because they prove that the church is fulfilling its mandate to raise up the next generation of preachers and the one after that. They prove that the church refuses to be so driven by a desire to display excellence that they will not risk the occasional dud. They prove that the congregation is mature enough to endure and even appreciate these first, messy attempts. There is hidden beauty, hidden value, in these bad sermons.
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