The Preacher's Toolbox: This Preacher's Greatest Fear

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My greatest fear is simply this: I will be exposed for the phony I am.

I want to get this out on the table straightaway. I would like to put my greatest homiletic fear out there, which I have reason to believe is the summus terror of many of my fellow preachers. The fear is not that I will lose my place in the sermon or forget what I am saying, not that I might accidentally say something heterodox if not heretical, not even that my sermon will inadvertently go viral because of some supposedly regressive comment I made in the pulpit... though I am not particularly keen to experience any of these, either. No, my greatest fear is simply this: I will be exposed for the phony I am.

Do not get me wrong. I believe in Jesus and confess the Creed without reservation. It is not that I am a closet unbeliever or, say, one of those state-church preachers you hear about who are collecting a paycheck while secretly (or not so secretly) worshiping Gaia.

So, the kind of revelation I fear is not the kind which will put me on the cover of a certain ironically titled, irregularly published periodical. The fear is simply born of a low-grade, simmering sense of insufficiency and inadequacy that leaves me thinking, “I have no business being the guy who gets to share this good news. I am a poser, a preacher-boy, a wannabe.”

Honestly, there are Sundays when I am probably less interested in being at church than just about anyone in the pews. There are weeks when I have not prayed a lick. There are times that, if I were accused of being a Christian (as the old song had it), I am not so sure I would be convicted. There are days when it is all I can do to don the collar and drag myself to my study.

And speaking of accoutrements: I am painfully aware that attempting to cover up my phoniness only makes things worse. It is what Tim Krieder has called putting on a “Soul Toupee.” A Soul Toupee, Krieder writes, is, “That thing about ourselves we are most deeply embarrassed by and like to think we have cunningly concealed from the world, but which is, in fact, pitifully obvious to everyone who knows us.” When I try to act like the put-together preacher who has his poop adequately grouped, I am simply sporting my Soul Toupee.

Yet, week by week, I find myself in the pulpit once again, phoniness or no. So, what am I to make of my fear?

Yet, week by week, I find myself in the pulpit once again, phoniness or no. So, what am I to make of my fear?

Simply put, I have to own it. I embrace the fact that I will ever and always be, this side of eternity, a poser, a wannabe, a sorry excuse for the pastor (for the Christian!) I long to be and who the people of God deserve. I accept it, because only by accepting it can I find a way past it.

I find inspiration in this from that patron saint of the Soul Toupee, the apostle formerly known as Saul of Tarsus.

Saint Paul knew this struggle well. Second Corinthians is the letter more than any other in which he bares his bald soul for all to see. He professes to be a “jar of clay” (4:7), admits he may or may not be out of his mind (5:13), utters an epic diatribe against his haters (11), and boasts about “a guy he knows” who had one wild ride in the third heaven (12:1-10).

Undergirding all of this apostolic over-sharing, though, is a claim Paul makes in chapter 3. “Such is the confidence we have through Christ toward God,” he writes. “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6a).

This is the key to overcoming my fear of phoniness: Neither pretending it does not exist nor acting as though I am something or someone other than I am, but acknowledging and even rejoicing in the fact that, wonder of wonders, God uses me anyway. And He uses you too, dear preacher.

In the spirit of telling you more than you probably need or want to know, let me crack open the vestry door and give you a peek of yours truly before ascending the pulpit. Like a superstitious ballplayer, I have my own pre-game routine. I check the batteries on my mic, straighten my stole, and do my best to pull myself together. Then I pray a prayer which is almost a sort of anti-pep talk. It typically goes something like this:

Lord, I know I have no business being here.
I am inadequate and insufficient for this task.
The people may not listen.
They are not going to laugh at my jokes.
They might fall asleep or even walk out.
Kids are going to cry.
Phones are going to go off.
Someone could pass out.
(Note: This has happened to me multiple times. I try not to take it personally.)
But it does not matter.
Because, Lord, You put me here.
You called and qualified me.
Your Word does the work.
So, make of this what You will, for Jesus’ sake.

Maybe you are like me, a fellow preacher-boy wannabe with a crooked stole who has been inexplicably conscripted into the Lord’s ministry. Welcome to the club! Call us the confederacy of phonies for Christ. There is plenty of room back here in the vestry. I promise not to draw attention to your Soul Toupee.