This Sunday has me stepping onto the platform at New Hope Church in the Minneapolis area for the first time as the church’s new senior pastor. To say I am excited is a profound understatement! And though the word “honored” may seem cliché, it is exactly how I feel.
But I am also a bit nervous, and part of that is because while I am still getting to know the New Hope Church family, everyone who will be listening to me will still be getting to know me, which implies a bit of a learning curve. Perhaps a brief primer will be helpful for those who listen to me preach.
First, I have a southern accent. In my dreams it would be a rich Scottish accent, a la Sean Connery (the amazing actor) or Alistair Begg (the renowned preacher). But, alas, it is a southern accent, sometimes heavy like southern humidity; a bit syrupy for my Scandinavian friends, and, of course, filled with the occasional “ya’ll’s” and “all ya’ll’s.” Over the years I have channeled my modest Norwegian heritage (I do have such a thing in my background) and thrown in longer O’s, but who am I really kidding? I have a southern accent.
Secondly, I have passion. The ancients spoke of public speakers needing pathos, and this I have. It really is, well, real, and ebbs and flows from moments of great intensity to moments of solemnity. I just can’t help it. The fact is, I love what I do and who I am and the Holy God whom I serve. And I drink lots of Caribou coffee.
Thirdly, I don’t preach with notes, but it is not because I memorize the sermon or am somehow out to impress anyone. It is because I am not gifted enough to comfortably read a manuscript. Also, it unleashes that passion thing I mentioned above.
Fourthly, I am an expository preacher. That means I will always break down the text of Scripture, letting it speak to us as we depend on the Holy Spirit’s counsel and guidance. The nature of the biblical literature (epistolary, narrative, wisdom, historical, etc.) may demand a variety of expositional styles, but the substance will always be grounded in an exegetical process giving attention to the ancient language (the Hebrew or the Aramaic or the Greek) and literary form as well as the theological and historical and cultural dynamics. To this I will prayerfully and thoughtfully add applicational values that help us correlate the text into the here and now of our lives. This is a non-negotiable for me.
Fifthly, for those hearing me consistently for the first time, I may have to grow on you. A year from now you might say, “Well Preacher, you really have gotten better.” It’s not that I really get any better (though I sure hope I am always improving!), it is that you are getting to know me better, and I am getting to know you better. Would you be willing to be patient with me? It will take time for you to trust my heart and acclaimate to my style. I promise I will strive to earn your trust.
Lastly, for now, I always pray through every word that comes out of my mouth in any sermon. The fact is, it is something I am doing 24/7. Well, not quite. I do sleep; but sometimes God wakes me up in the middle of the night to fine-tune my soul for the message He wants me to give. Sundays come like waves landing on the sandy shore—one after the next, always coming in. Steadfast prayer, constant meditation, and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s refining wisdom for each passage dominates nearly every waking moment I have, even as I am doing many other things. Would you join me in praying for the sermons? I promise you I believe these are not about me. These are about what God Almighty has for all of us who can experience the teaching of God’s Word.
My prayer every time I preach anywhere in the world, and for each time at New Hope Church, is Psalm 69:6, which says, “Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.”
And this will most assuredly be my prayer this coming Sunday morning!