It’s difficult and painful to realize that you have been wearing a mask for a long time, not really being as authentic as you should have been. It does not matter if the mask was worn unintentionally; what matters is finding the courage to admit that you need to change and to be real in your calling, a true steward of the God-given task appointed to you.
In my case, I looked back over the last 13 years since I was ordained to preach, and I finally understood that I was not doing what God called me to do, mostly out of fear and anxiety at getting it wrong and causing eternal damage. Yes, there is a more private way to address this issue which would not mean putting my business in the streets for all manners of people to judge me, but, I hope my story will help someone else move forward in their calling in more authentic, less frightened, and more timely ways.
I have been ordained since 2005, and I have served at several churches in associate minister positions, but I have never really investigated what it means to be called to preach God’s Word. I have not attended seminary or even a Bible college. My PhD is in a secular subject: Sociology. I have been more of a Sunday preacher, occasionally adding Wednesday night services. I have worn the clerical collars and robes, looking the part, mimicking the actions of the more senior ministers, preaching when asked to “bring the message.”
My sermons have been well-received, with one very enthusiastic listener declaring, “You were born to preach!” I was thankful to be thought capable of my calling, maybe a little more needy of the praise than was healthy. It is so easy to get enamored of the praise, deference, and reverence that accompany having Reverend in front of your name, especially in the Black church where pastors are sometimes nearly seen as just shy of being God.
I fully understand why Jesus scolded the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees for loving “to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.'”(Matthew 23:6-7). It is a needed lesson for every person called by God to serve His people, for we sometimes crave the approval and praise of others as a means to understanding our own worth. And, unless we are mentored by other ministers with servant hearts, we can lose our way and simply play the part without understanding the parameters of the task and the enormity of what we are called to do. We simply wear our masks and no one is the wiser.
But, after accepting an invitation to become an associate pastor, a position that will require me to preach and teach a lot more than I ever have, I had to stop and think if I were really prepared to be in a leadership position that requires me to take responsibility for the salvation and eternal resting place of those whom I will teach. I simply performed a deep Biblical study when I was going to preach or when I taught Sunday School, or for this blog, especially for Psalm Wednesdays (which will continue next week).
This week, as I read the book, Stewards of The Story: The Task of Preaching, by Rev. Dr. James Earl Massey, I realized the degree to which I have not been a good steward of the call on my life. I understand that I must no longer act the part of a preacher, I must be a preacher. I must put the things of God first in my life, because so many people do not read the Bible for themselves, so it is imperative that preachers know what they are telling people. Dr. Massey states, “As stewards of The Word, ‘The Story,’ we are expected to study the scriptures in order to know them, and to understand the Scriptures in order to utilize them properly….’a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth'” (p. 8).
I have spent thirteen years being afraid to get it wrong, especially because I had no seminary training. Yet, some of the best preaching I have heard and read were by people who had no university or college training. They, like me, relied on the Holy Spirit to help them understand God’s words and used their own personal experiences as fodder for stories to illustrate biblical concepts in ways that they hoped resonated with their audience.
For me, real preaching is about helping people know the character and unfailing love of God and His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, while giving them an assurance that God is with them every step of the way. The Bible Scriptures that helps me understand my calling and allows me to take off the my mask is Isaiah 46: 3-5:
Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel. I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. “To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?
To be authentic in our callings, absent the masks, requires us to demonstrate the courage to ask for help and to be earnest enough to know what you do not know, for no one can perform their tasks well without the proper knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. I will be spending more time reading preaching books and other materials that will allow me to perform my calling in the right way and with the right motives. I will acknowledge my fears and seek out pastors and learn from them the positives and negatives of leading God’s people. I want to be a wise and faithful steward of God who called me, so that when Jesus returns He might find me doing His good will.