This past weekend, I was afforded the opportunity to preach for my high school alma mater’s annual alumni weekend. This weekend was especially significant to me because it marked 10 years since my class graduated, even though it feels like last week. It was a joy to reunite with professors, classmates, teammates, and close friends. Quite a bit of “life” has transpired in 10 years. Many of us have completed college and are settling into the very careers we set our eyes on while in high school. Others have taken different paths than they originally intended. Some are married with children, while others are still single…and looking. Our varied life scenarios aside, it was just good to share time and space again.
Alumni weekend is held on Labor Day weekend. The Sabbath morning worship service is traditionally held in a large outdoor pavilion (graduation takes place in the same venue). Normally, the weather is warm and inviting. This year, however, it was wet and cold. With temperatures in the 50s and no alternative space prepared, some 400 alumni, family, and friends gathered together, hoping our collective bodies would produce enough heat to counter the brisk morning breeze. At least until the sun came out. It never did.
By the time I stood to preach, one got the sense that the cold was winning the battle. It is hard for people to give you their attention when they are cold. The congregation was full of personal friends and people I’ve pastored. They were rooting for me. My parents, younger sister, and wife were seated in the section to my right. I know they were praying for me. My class was seated together in our honor section. I’m confident they were pulling for me. Yet, the cold seemed to be working overtime AGAINST me. The saints were cold, and in all honesty, I was cold, too.
It is hard to preach in cold weather.
The first 10 minutes of the message seemed like an uphill hike. The intermittent audio feedback supplemented by what looked like disinterested stares of indifference made me feel…horrible. Even though I was familiar with the message and its transitions, my train of thought and fluidity of speech were not as clear as I’d envisioned, hoped for, prayed for, or imagined. “Is this happening," I asked myself. “Not at alumni weekend. Not on my 10 year reunion!”
At some point during the delivery, though I’m not exactly sure when, a greater rapport was developed between the hearers and me. Several approached me after service to express their appreciation for the sermon, noting that it was “right on time,” and “just what they needed.” I was deeply encouraged by their sharing. It let me know that even though I could not see it, God was planting the seeds of His Word in the hearts that needed them.
After preaching in the cold, I learned a few lessons. I’d like to share them.
1. Be prepared to preach in and through cold weather.
While you may never literally preach (or sing, teach, share, etc.) outdoors in cold weather, you may preach in “cold conditions.” Cold conditions are the almost inevitable moments when you feel like your hearers are not with you, present, or there. They are physically present, but their minds, hearts, energy, and emotions are somewhere else. This will impact the preaching moment.
This was the last thing I was prepared for. I envisioned a lively, participatory experience. However, sometimes the journey is uphill. In those moments, there is a temptation to give up and coast until the end or put it in 5th and drive your point(s) home whether people are with you or not. Avoid yielding to either temptation. Instead, be prayerful as you preach and trust that what God has given you will accomplish its purpose, even if no one responds audibly, gestures expressively, or smiles sincerely.
2. Be prayerful while preaching in cold weather.
As mentioned before, you may be tempted to overcompensate with your voice, gestures, mannerisms, and/or tempo. Like you, I do not like the feeling I get when it seems like the saints are not on board. In those moments, do not default to criticizing them (although healthy, well-timed encouragement is often in order) or killing them with volume. I have been guilty of this and wonder if I leaned too heavily upon vocality this weekend. Perhaps I’ll post the link and you can let me know your thoughts. Nevertheless, prayer and preaching go hand-in-hand. Pray before preaching, during preaching, and after preaching. Praying before prepares you for preaching. Praying during primes you while preaching. Praying after humbles you because who of us is sufficient to preach in the first place? Even in the cold…especially in the cold, be prayerful while you preach.
3. Preach in Christ’s strength while preaching in cold weather.
No lie. The morning of, I prayed specifically that God’s strength would be made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10). I do not know exactly why I prayed that prayer. I wasn’t feeling sick. I'm normally nervous before speaking, so that wasn’t unusual. I knew it was cold and showing signs of rain, but that wasn’t weighing too heavily on my mind. It was just a prayer I felt impressed to pray. It was also a prayer I believe the Lord answered.
At a certain point, I resolved that only God could bring something meaningful out the message (of course, one is often his hardest critic). However, as I have reflected on the day, I believe that God was glorified. He told me to tell His people that He will take care of them (cf. 2 Kings 4:1-7). I believe that message was delivered to and received by those who needed it when they needed it. And the life of a single sermon is unique in that it resonates with some in the moment and others in the future. The life of a single sermon is dynamic in that others will share salients points that spoke to them with friends, family members, classmates, and coworkers. The life of one sermon is time-sensitive in that the Holy Spirit will bring it back to someone’s mind just when they need a reminder.
So, I am grateful for the opportunity to preach in cold weather. I am a better preacher and person as a result.
What about you? Have you ever preached in cold weather?
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”
2 Timothy 4:1, 2