Do you remember the first time you preached? Do you remember how it felt? How many people were there? What your text and topic were? Were you excited or terrified or both?
I was sixteen or seventeen years old when I was first asked to preach. “Asked,” that might be too generous of a term. The adult volunteer youth coordinator for our area of Arizona called one night and said, “Rich, we don’t have a preacher for the retreat next weekend so you’re it. Let me know what you’re going to preach on when we get there.” I tried to protest that I was too young, unqualified, etc., but he wasn’t going for it. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I had no idea how to preach a sermon or how to pick out a text; and it’d be years before I’d even hear the word ‘lectionary.’ To this day I have no memory of what I preached on. I can’t remember the biblical text. I wonder if I even had a main point. But I’ll always remember the feeling of standing in front of a couple hundred youth and adult volunteers, opening the Bible, and proclaiming the Word. I’ll always remember how people I barely knew came up to me afterward to discuss what I’d said. And, I’ll always be grateful for a crazy youth coordinator who saw in me what I did not see in myself.
I find myself, as a somewhat seasoned preacher, looking for those young people, youth and young adults, in our church that might be called to preach, wondering who God is raising up in this generation to proclaim the Gospel anew. From time to time my attention falls on someone and I begin to pray by asking God if this is one He is calling. I don’t think I’ve been as diligent as I need to be in this task. God is still calling people to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world in such desperate need of it. I’m beginning to see these youth and young adults in a new way. I’m being encouraged as I watch them struggle with the call God is placing on their lives, some of whom are not yet aware of that call.
I know it’s hard. Nothing in our current culture validates a call to preach. There are no temporal rewards and no true career path. Parents, friends, and others are often not supportive of the call to preach. Yet God still calls and still His children respond. But how can we come alongside what God is speaking to them? How should you and I be involved in this discernment? How can we be a little like that crazy youth coordinator that helped me discover God’s call upon my life?
Here are four things I’m attempting to do as I discover young men and women I believe God is calling to preach:
- Encourage them well.
Of all the things I learned from that initial preaching experience, this is the most important. Your simple, gentle, persistent encouragement in deeply important. You really cannot overdo this. No one is over-encouraged, so encourage them well. Speak it. Write them a note or email. Make a phone call. Let them know that you believe in them and are there for them through this crazy new experience.
- Equip them well.
You will have to carve out some time to help. I was left all on my own to figure it out. It turned out ok, but it could have been better. Make the time to walk them through how to pick out a text, how to do rudimentary exegesis, and how to find a main point. You may even have to teach a little bit of basic public speaking technique. Yes, your workload may be higher for taking on this role, but the Kingdom will be better for it.
- Evaluate them well.
This is the hardest part and I think the most overlooked for all preachers, not just new ones. Appropriate evaluation is the key for any preacher to get better at the preaching task. Please be gentle and kind, but also be thorough. Help them understand what did and didn’t work. Correct any biblical and theological errors. Help them establish a regular habit of evaluating. At the end of the evaluation be absolutely certain to encourage and build up. Leave them with no doubt that God is pleased with them for taking on this sacred task!
- But don’t rescue them!
And finally, avoid the temptation to rescue them when they try to beg out of it. Not all young and first-time preachers will try to get out of it, but many will. Stay firm and don’t rescue for they can do more than they think they can. Encourage, equip, and evaluate, but don’t rescue. Allow them to succeed or fail; it will be ok, even if they stumble all over their words. God has an amazing way of taking our stumbling and turning it into His victory.
There you have it, four ways to come alongside young new prospective preachers; to come alongside the work of God as He calls a new generation to proclaim the Gospel message. So, start praying that God would open your eyes to see the ones He is calling to this sacred task. Pray that God would raise up young men and women in your congregation and community to preach! God will do it. He always has…