Daniel Taylor, diocesan communications graduate, reflects on his experience of attending the Diocese of Guildford’s PREACH! event for 16–25 year olds, which develops the skill of, and knowledge behind, sharing the gospel and encourages attendees to utilise their skills in the future.
Stepping into the venue of PREACH! on the first day I had no idea what to expect. If anything, I had visions of devout, practised evangelists with hearts actually ablaze for Jesus, quoting scripture I had never heard before. Luckily for me my nine fellow course mates appeared to be remarkably normal and, with any social awkwardness placated by the presence of doughnuts and coffee, we sat down ready to learn how to preach a sermon.
After bumbling through the required ‘getting to know’ each other activities in a stereotypically English manner, we were treated to an overview of preaching. Key questions such as ‘What is a preacher?’, ‘How can you start your sermon?’ and ‘How do we communicate well?’ were covered. Instilled with mild levels of confidence, which in my case didn’t last long, we then departed to write a five minute sermon on one of five texts suggested by the lectionary for Easter Sunday.
Filled with trepidation and a definite sense that I hadn’t slept well enough, I entered back into the folds at St Nicolas, clutching an all-too-hastily assembled talk. Split into two groups, we all delivered what was in many cases our first ever sermon. In my group, all five of us were preaching on a passage of nine verses, Acts 34-43.
"Gave great insight into how differently people can bring the message and interpret scripture."
Speaking after the break gave great insight into how differently people can bring the message and interpret scripture. Although everyone in the group correctly spoke about the most important theme in the text, the illustrations used and the spin placed upon the text varied greatly.
Fortunately for me, although the dominant theme had been covered in great depth by the time I took to the lectern, my illustrations were thankfully left uncovered. Stepping up to preach for the first ever time was a rather odd experience, something markedly different from a speech. Even with the knowledge that I was only speaking to a small group of people, all of whom were supportive and at the very least constructive, there was a weight present; you are responsible for bringing God’s word to an audience. An appalling sermon can lead to far wider consequences than a bad speech. Someone may be turned off from Christianity, think that the person at the front has no idea what the important parts and themes of the passage are, or just be left scratching their head.
"Helped to foster a feeling that preaching is something that is certainly possible for me to continue and I will seek out opportunities to step up and deliver God’s word."
After making my way through my sermon, feedback was given by my peers and the assembled experts. The comments I received are among the most helpful and supportive I have ever got and have transformed the way which I present. Following the overdose of Acts, everyone reconvened to learn finer points of how to go about preaching again. Learning about the correct use of media and how to start pulling out the themes of a passage was very useful and has helped to foster a feeling that preaching is something that is certainly possible for me to continue. As a result I will seek out opportunities to step up and deliver God’s word.
"PREACH! is a course that has changed an awful lot for me personally."
With the arrival of Bishop Andrew, the course was over - certificates were given and messages of support for the future were made. PREACH! is a course that has changed an awful lot for me personally. The strong focus on how to prepare a sermon and the experience of actually delivering one has given me the confidence to stand up and proclaim the message, something I will take further. The feedback from my mini congregation also offered a lot of insight into how my public speaking can be improved, a vital life skill which I am very grateful for - not being boring stands for a lot in life. It was a thoroughly illuminating experience with a great bunch of people. A desire to take up the mantle of a preacher is not one I anticipated coming out of these two days but I feel inspired to take on this vital role. Diversity in message is one of the great strengths of the Church and I wholeheartedly recommend anyone considering preaching attend this wonderful course.