Preaching your first sermon at a new church is a stressful activity. Especially when you’re an Associate Pastor.
If you make a bad first impression, you won’t have a chance to redeem it for at least another month. On top of that, alot of people may not come to the next service where you’re preaching because they’re thinking, “the Senior Pastor is taking a day off so we might as well too, especially since the Associate is preaching.”
All of the above thoughts ran through my head before I preached for the first time at my new church a few weeks back.
These thoughts continually led me to prayer. I prayed to God for peace and wisdom.
In the midst of these stressful thoughts and humble prayers, I knew that the pressure I was feeling was self-induced. I had to remind myself that the people in the congregation weren’t my peers in preaching class looking for numerous ways to critique my sermon. The people in the congregation were rooting for me to do well. They didn’t count my “umms” like people used to do when I spoke at Toastmasters for Youth. They were listening for God to speak to them through me.
My text for the sermon was Acts 20:17-38, a farewell speech given by Paul to the church leaders at Ephesus.
In this speech, Paul reviews over his time with the Ephesians and emphasizes the final impression he wants to leave upon the leaders.
He offers himself up as a model leader of the church and paints a beautiful picture with his words of what a model leader should say and do: they should serve with humility, be led by the spirit, declare that people must turn to God in repentance and have faith in Jesus, consider their lives worth nothing for the sake of the Gospel, not hesitate to speak truth when its helpful, keep watch over those they’re in leadership over, not covet the riches of others, help the weak, and remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Do those attributes sound familiar?
While Paul was offering himself up as a model leader, he was really pointing to the way Jesus lived and led his followers.
What I love about this passage is its juxtaposition with my first impression upon the congregation. As I was writing, thoughts of my first impression kept creeping into my head. Yet, as I was studying the text, the importance of final impressions became more and more clear.
Sure, at some point Paul made a first impression on the Ephesians. But he wasn’t worried about whether that impression was a good or bad one. Here, he is concerned with leaving a solid final impression.
Whenever he finished a day’s work, moved to another city, or was crying with good friends because he would never see them again, he wanted Jesus to be impressed on them.
Paul, like us, knew that first impressions mattered but that it was final impressions that made a true impact.
At the end of each day, at the end of each week, at the end of each job, at the end of each city we live in, and at the end of our lives we will leave impressions on those around us.
Therefore, the question is this: what impression will we leave on them?
Will they say that in words and actions we testified to God’s grace? Will they feel loved? Will they see Jesus?
These questions ran through my head and my transcript as I stepped into the pulpit my first Sunday to preach. When I stood before the congregation, these questions led me to realize that my first impression upon all of them didn’t matter as much as I thought it should before I began preparing.
I realized that in a year, most of the congregation wouldn’t remember that sermon and the first impression it made on them. But they would remember whether during that year I served the church with arrogance or humility. They would remember whether or not I preached Jesus. They would remember whether I stopped, let my schedule be interrupted and took time with them, or whether I was too busy to care for them. They would remember whether I modeled my life after Jesus, or something else.
As I’ve heard many preachers say, “You must preach the Word to yourself first.”
You can listen to the sermon entitled “Paul: The leader who imitated Christ” here: