Sometime last year, I experienced a preaching crisis. Today, I re-read a passage in The Leadership Challenge that not only describes how I felt during the crisis, but how I felt coming out of it. The book begins by describing how we usually begin to grow by imitating others.
Somewhere along the way, you’ll notice that your speech sounds mechanically rote, that your meetings are a boring routine, and that your interactions feel terribly sad and empty. You’ll awaken to the frightening thought that the words aren’t yours, that the vocabulary is someone else’s, that the technique is right out of the text but not straight from the heart. While you’ve invested so much time and energy in learning to do all the right things, you suddenly see that they’re no longer serving you well. The methods seem hollow. You may even feel like a phony. In these moments you begin to stare into the darkness of your own inner territory, and to wonder what lies inside. You say to yourself, “I’m not someone else. I’m a unique human being. But, who exactly am I? What is my voice?” For aspiring leaders, this awakening initiates a period of intense exploration, a period of testing, a period of invention. A period of going beyond technique, beyond training, beyond imitating the masters, and beyond taking the advice of others. Then, after exhausting experimentation and often painful suffering, there emerges from all those abstract strokes on the canvas an expression of self that is truly your own… If…you’re fortunate to experience an integrative turning point in your development – a point where you’re able to merge the lessons from your outer and inner journeys – you move on to becoming an authentic leader [preacher], in whatever field you’ve chosen for yourself. You’re able to recognize your own voice from the multitude of other voices ringing in your ears, and you find ways to express yourself in a singular style.
Calvin Miller’s book The Sermon Maker helped me when I wanted to give up. It also made me realize that it probably wouldn’t be the last preaching crisis I would face. It was uncanny to read the same feelings, the same desire to move beyond technique, expressed in the The Leadership Challenge.