I was both thrilled and intimidated when my church asked me — then a 29 year old college minister — to become their interim pastor. While I loved to preach, I was nervous about having to prepare practically every Sunday. I treated those sermon manuscripts like so many of the doctoral seminar papers I was producing during that crazed period of life — composed on an Apple Macintosh and printed out on a dot-matrix printer mere minutes before the sermon was “due.” I would step gingerly toward the pulpit with my Bible and still-warm sheaf of 8.5 x 11 pages, flipping each one over one at a time as I read my manuscript word for word.

During that interim season, some formerly active church members stopped coming. A colleague on staff called them to ask why. “Well, you know, the senior pastor left.” Yes I know, my colleague says, but you should come hear our new interim pastor. To which the person replied, “That boy? Well, he reads well, I guess.”

The next Sunday, as I once again stood up to preach, I couldn’t get this image of myself out of my head. I was Alfalfa from the Little Rascals, climbing atop a milk crate to peer over the pulpit, doing my best to play a grownup at church. I was merely “reading,” not really preaching. But just who did I think I was the week before hearing that comment? Did I fancy myself some old-souled, rising young orator, whose stirring sermons were bringing an old and tired gospel back to life?

The longer I preach, the more I realize that (Aristotle’s ‘ethos’ notwithstanding) it ultimately does not matter what I or anyone else thinks about the preacher or the preacher’s method of proclamation. The gospel is what matters — read well or poorly, extemporized or sung or testified or prayed, by a man or woman or boy or girl. In fact, the self-confidence of the “brilliant pulpit orator” is really a big fat distraction. How much better to come at the task, as Paul among the cultured Corinthians, …in weakness with great fear and trembling…not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5).

Three decades later, this boy is still stepping a little less tentatively toward the pulpit most Sundays, sometimes with a manuscript and other times with a mere outline. And when, peering down through his progressive lenses, he sees the light hit the page of his notes just right, he still reads quite well, if he does say so himself.