A friend of mine recently asked me, and many other preachers, two questions: (1) what led you to decide to preach and (2) what most helped your development as a young man? Feeling a bit reflective at the moment, I’ll take a swipe at answering such right here.
A lot of creeks fed those two rivers, but I’ll only share a few of them.
First: what led me to decide to preach?
(a) A godly grandmother laid the foundation before I even realized it. My Dad’s mother was a devout Christian. She lived 1,600 miles away and in the course of my entire life, I can count on one hand the number of times we saw each other face-to-face. However, from the time of my earliest memory, she wrote my family a letter every week, without fail; every week for years. With every letter – and with no exceptions – she would include along with her letter some religious clipping, a quote from a sermon, a church bulletin, a prayer, or some such. When I grew old enough to read on my own, I read her letters … and what she sent along. Ever so often – not “too” often, just ever so often – she would write a single sentence to the effect of something specific she was praying about for me and my parents, typically regarding our coming to know the Lord.
I was baptized into Christ at the age of 16 and shortly thereafter, my grandmother conveyed to me that her prayers had now shifted from my coming to Christ to my continuing with him and proclaiming him. I have no doubt that had it not been for my grandmother’s prayers, any and all other creeks that might have fed that river would have turned up dry.
(b) A sorry sermon was the tipping point. I was a young Christian (both in terms of age  and duration in Christ [3 yrs.]) anxious to hear some good word to help me grow in Christ. I had worked all day at my job, quickly come home and cleaned up, bolted out the door, and drove to a gospel meeting in a nearby town that had been heavily advertised, featuring the preaching of a very experienced and competent minister. However, what I received that night in terms of a sermon was a virtually empty plate, devoid of milk or meat. It was a 45 minute account of how many verses there are in the Bible, how many years required in its composition, etc. When the final “Amen” was said, I walked out the door totally frustrated, muttering under my breath as I exited, “I don’t know ‘come here’ from ‘sic ’em’ yet and I could have done a better job than that!” It was not the most humble of thoughts, but it certainly was not one devoid of conviction … or lacking genuine foundation. I found myself dwelling on that thought all the way home, that night, considering it until I drifted off to sleep, and for the better part of probably a month following.
To fully appreciate that statement (“.. I could do a better job …”) you should also know that at that time, when it came to speaking in public, I was an introvert’s introvert. Looking back, I can say with confidence that the die was cast as I walked out the door that night; it just took a while for me to realize it.
(c) A college prof sealed the deal. Fifteen semester hours short of a degree, I had dropped out of college. After working at my Dad’s service station for about nine months I decided to get back into college (Cameron University). At the time, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to pursue for my degree, much less my life. My first class back was Fundamentals of Speech, my first exposure to any training in public speaking. The last day of the course, the prof – Dr. Tony Allison, a deacon in one of the Churches of Christ in Lawton, OK – called me into his office to talk privately. He had two things to say to me. First, he asked me what I planned to do with my life. I told him I hadn’t a clue. Second, he simply said: “Have you considered preaching? You’ve got what it takes. I think you should.” I was consumed with much thought and fervent prayer the weeks following. I went on to major in Speech and was preaching every week for well over a year before graduation. All because a brother in Christ, a prof of mine, took an interest in me and offered me his measured guidance.
Now I say all of that to say three things. First, for whatever reason(s), sometimes a sermon falls flat. Not to worry: someone just might get the idea to take up preaching as a result! Trust me, this is no small source of consolation to me whenever I feel upon exiting the pulpit on any given Sunday that I “just didn’t bring my ‘A’ game” that day and would rather just go crawl under a big rock and die. Second, never underestimate the power of little old blue-haired church ladies’ prayers. God’s answers to them just might be what keeps things going! Third, an individualized, sincere question from a righteous person coupled with a thoughtful, considered suggestion, is powerful and effective.
Second: what most helped my development as a young man in Christ?
(a) Middle-aged folks and old timers in the church – not my peers – who took the time and made the effort to learn the name of a faceless teen who suddenly started showing up at church. They went out of their way to get to know me, befriend me, and deliberately be a source of endless encouragement to me when I had little to offer them in return aside from a smile and a simple pleasantry.
(b) Preachers who allowed me to simply be in their presence, ask them questions, hitched me up to responsibilities, gave me opportunities, put up with my mistakes, and/or who simply had a listening ear for a clueless teen seeking company and direction were invaluable. I will forever be in tremendous debt to men of God like Steve Bracken, Duard Givens, Robert Gregg, Jerry Hurst, Stanley Sayers, and Clayton Waller.
Preaching. It’s something that at one time in life I would ‘ve laughed in your face at the mere suggestion of it. Now it’s something I can’t imagine not doing. I wouldn’t ever want it any other way.