I had a few weeks between the time I received the call to become pastor of LRBC and my first Sunday. I took the time to relocate and write two new sermons, one for Sunday morning, one for Sunday night. I had grown in my preaching skills. Long gone were the days of marching Joshua around Jericho in 7 minutes and 30 seconds. Now it would take him almost an hour.
By the time LRBC called me as pastor I approached a sermon as if I were carving a paper weight out of a mountain. I read broadly. I researched every cultural nuance of the text. I took several days to carve out an outline. I searched for stories. I took a few more days to write the manuscript and several more to practice it. By the time the process was over I had a well crafted 45 to 50 minute theological masterpiece. Those early sermons took a great deal of time to prepare and they took an even greater amount of patience to hear.
On October 13, 1996 I preached my sermons. One in the morning. One in the evening. My life as a pastor was officially underway. I left the church and headed back to the duplex I had rented just a few miles down the road. I reflected on a job well done all the way home. When I arrived I made my way to the front door and fumbled with my keys. Now that I was a pastor I had more than two keys. Lantana Road Baptist Church only had three doors, but for some reason you needed ten keys to get in the building. But keys felt good. It felt official. So there I was with my big set of keys, my big black Bible, and a sermon manuscript, still hot from a solid 50 minutes of preaching.
After I opened the front door another thought entered my mind. As I made my way toward the small countertop between the living room and the kitchen I became increasingly unsettled. Now that I am an official pastor I will have to preach again on Wednesday night, just three days from now. Seven days from now I will have to preach two more sermons. The following week I will have to do it all again, three more times, every week for the rest of my life. Being an official pastor means preaching cubed.
It was a sickening moment when I realized that I no longer had a month to write a sermon. I had a week to write three of them. Somehow I would also have to visit people and if they died I would have to bury them. That would require another sermon. Nobody is considerate enough to give you 30 days notice so you can have enough time to write their funeral sermon. I felt completely overwhelmed, out of my league. I could always go back to mowing grass.
I didn’t know where to begin. How do preachers figure out what they are going to preach about every week for the rest of their life? I had taken preaching classes, but somehow I missed this all important lecture. Now I know that in 1996 Rick Warren and Bill Hybels had long invented the sermon series, but I had heard only one of those. Bro. Wayne had preached 12 Sundays on the 12 Apostles. That might buy me 12 Sundays, but the three a week schedule meant that the 12 Apostles would only last me a month. What then?
I sat on my couch, a new one that I had purchased with Shannon on the way up to Crossville. It was our first official married couch. I was blue and green. We still own it. If that couch could talk it would probably be much more honest about these stories than I ever will. But I sat there on the couch wondering, “What exactly is it that preachers do?” “How do they do this every week?” Monday was only a few hours away. Those questions would begin to answer themselves soon enough.