ANSWERING GOD'S CALL TO PREACH
1 Samuel 3:10 Now the Lord came and stood there calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel! And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening"
Let's just say, in the first instance, I never asked for this. I mean, I am an accountant for crying out loud! And I had a nice set up at home and at work that enabled me to step in and out of doing things with the church when I had time or the inclination. However, in 2013, I agreed to help on the Alpha course. I didn't know why or how but I found myself volunteering to do a talk about prayer.
I prepared the talk and gave it a go in front of my Jack. When I finished, he said: "I am probably going to shoot myself for saying this but I think you should become a local preacher." To which I responded: "I know God is calling me to preach" ...... Whoa! Who said that and where on earth did the idea come from? Jack and I just looked at each other, laughed nervously and then thought nothing more about it.
Week 4, the time for my talk came and I have never been as scared in all my life. I was introduced and I stood up and looked at all the faces I had come to know over the last 3 weeks. I saw the faces of the team full of encouragement and then ....something wonderful happened – I felt a real connection with God and as my talk continued, the connection continued to grow.
I was overwhelmed when I finished to a favourable response from everyone and after the session, the Alpha Team regrouped to discuss any points that came from that week's session. The team were very encouraging about my talk and John Foster said: "There are some preachers who bring a tear to my eye and I had a tear in my eye tonight." Tell you what; I bet he's had more than a few tears in his eyes since becoming my mentor – and not for the same reason!
Then, one of the group said: "Yes, it was a preach at the beginning and then turned into the Alpha course." I was a bit gutted. I didn't intend to preach: to be honest, I didn't know what it really meant to preach! I couldn't understand where I went wrong. I used the Alpha guidelines and was not aware that I had strayed from giving a talk to preaching. I went home with mixed feelings, pleased that the talk went well but worried that I had done something wrong, whilst at the same time wondering; 'am I being called to preach?'
The following week, during the talk, the speaker that week said something about the power of prayer and preaching and John Foster pointed to me and smiled. Was that a sign – should I be thinking about preaching? No, I thought, I am just seeing what I want to see.
But that thought kept niggling: 'should I explore becoming a local preacher'?
I looked up the information on the Methodist website about local preachers and the Faith and Worship course and thought: do I want to do this? is it my sort of thing? am I getting above myself? I prayed to God to show me the way, to guide me and to let me know if He wanted me to preach. In one prayer I said that I was so dense that I would probably only know if I was being called to preach if someone told me directly.
Week 6 of Alpha came and I was still praying for that final sign. Running late, I dashed into dinner before the course started and quickly began eating. For one split second I looked up to see John Foster talking to someone. In that split second John caught my eye and broke off his conversation and said: "Carol is going to speak to Cameron about doing the Faith & Worship course." I could no longer ignore the call. God had answered my prayer. I went home that evening and discussed it with my Jack and we agreed that I should ask to be put forward to go on note.
John Foster was an inspired choice as my mentor. I did not know him very well but he instinctively knew I was going to be trouble and he knew how to handle me. He let me run when I needed to and reined me in when necessary, which fortunately was not often. He knew that I would find my own pace and my own coping strategies. He encouraged and helped me to grow but also kept me grounded. He is still my mentor and now a great friend.
I was accepted on Trial in September 2013 and the real studying started!
My studying was a love/hate thing. I am not an easy pupil – Eileen Sanderson will vouch for that! But over-all, I had the time of my life. I absorbed anything and everything. I did not rush at it but I kept up a steady pace.
I won't lie and say I found it easy. I had my tantrums. My mentor did warn me that if I did not want to throw the study material at the wall at least three times during the course it would not be normal. However, he did later remind me it was three times in the course and not in the first unit!!!
All in all, I thought the Faith and Worship material was a great way to start on a preaching journey. I have learned so much from it and even the bits I didn't agree with gave me something to chew over.
Then, on top of all the studying I discovered the three P's of learning to preach:
Prayer, Panic and Paranoia
Paranoia? Of course everyone was against me: the preachers would think I was not good enough, the people in church were not going to accept me, my own church would think I had got too big for my boots. Everyone was going to make it difficult for me.
How wrong I was.
Preachers and worship leaders have given me so much encouragement on my journey to date. And stewards and congregations have always made me feel so welcome. I have never been made to feel that I did not belong. My paranoia couldn't be more unfounded.
The second P was Panic – saying to myself: how am I going to do this? will what I say be worth listening to? will I get the message right? will I let God down? I never asked for this – my life was under control, I knew what I was doing and now, I am right out of my comfort zone.
And what was – and still is – my answer to that panic:
I have discovered that the answer lies in the third P – Prayer. If I have learnt nothing else from my preaching journey so far, I have learned the importance and the power of prayer. I have learned that if I don't approach things by praying first, I get into a mess. If I don't connect with God, I will deliver a far from acceptable piece of work. If I don't ask the Holy Spirit to be with me, filling me up and enabling me during service, then I am in danger of waffling words without meaning and I may deliver something that doesn't come up to scratch. I have been known to say to many a worship leader or steward, when they ask if they can do anything for me before a service: I say "pray and make it a good one because I need it". Of course, I can deliver a perfectly acceptable piece of work on my own. But if I want this to be worship and if I want God's word to be heard then I cannot do this alone. I cannot do this without Jesus, without God. And I am still amazed when, during a service, I can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and something very special happens.
As I said at the beginning, I didn't ask for this. I just wanted to get a bit involved in something, a little hobby, perhaps a bit of studying just for me, a course to keep me spiritually focused. But I don't mind admitting that I have totally lost control of my life and handed it over to God – who is doing amazing things in my life as a result of this. I have an awful lot to learn but I know that, with God's help, I will become the preacher He knows that I can be.
I believe I was called by God to give His message in a simple way so don't expect to hear fancy words and grand theological phrases in my sermons. But do expect simplicity and sincerity and hopefully, God's message because I do firmly believe that I am doing what God has called me to do, in the way He wants me to do it.
If anyone feels they are being called to preach or to lead worship, I urge you to answer the call – you will not be disappointed. It's an amazing journey and the rewards far outreach anything that you are asked to do or give.
My preaching journey goes on and if I gain nothing more from being a local a preacher than the joy and peace I have from being a better Christian and a better person then I have still gained far more than I thought possible. Whatever I do, I do for the Glory of God but you know what – He just amazes me every day by how much He gives back to me!
My accreditation service took place on 23rd January, 2016, on what would have been my mother's 97th birthday. The service was a wonderful experience, a day I won't forget. And I pray that my journey continues and that I meet the challenge that God has given me, in the knowledge that He has also given me the gift to fulfil what He has asked of me. I continue to walk with Jesus, knowing also that I can rely on everyone's support and prayers till I meet Him face to face and when – dare I hope to – hear Him say: "Welcome, faithful servant – come in and put your feet up."