Jan 172014 0 Responses

On a Church Van, a Lost Man, and Losing Your Hearing in the War

When I was in college, I spent most Sundays traveling the back roads of Oklahoma and learning my craft by preaching at small, 100-person churches. (See: Church Work: Devils, Doorbells, and Ding Dongs)

Years later I would be told every church should have at least two guest preachers a year: One should be better than the pastor in order to challenge the pastor to improve. The second should be worse than the pastor in order to encourage the congregation that they don’t have it that bad. In those days, I was the latter far more often than the former.

Before Siri We Only Had the Spirit

Living in a pre-GPS era, half the battle was just finding the church.

One Sunday I drove around lost for over an hour. As 11:00 approached I had given up hope of finding the right place. I pulled to a 4–way stop I had gone through three times both ways. I simply stopped and prayed, “Lord, it’s 10:50. If you want me to preach you are going to have to get me there.”

A vehicle approached from my right. Not knowing what to do, I waved them through and sat in amazement as a van passed in front of me with the name of the church printed on the side. I hung a left, followed them for three blocks and pulled in behind them 5 minutes before the service. I’m not sure if the people wanted me there that day, but apparently God did.

The Best Listener Ever

One particular Sunday while preaching, I scanned the crowd and no one was really paying attention. Most of the congregation were of the age where they could only stay awake an hour at a time and that hour had been taken up by Sunday School. They did their best through the music and by the time I stood to speak, they were no longer trying to remain awake. (See: What Goes On When Every Head is Bowed and Every Eye Is Closed)

It would have been a discouraging experience except for one kind old man on the fourth row. He sat right on the aisle and his eyes never left me. Normally a pastor volleys the direction of his body back and forth from right to left. You find someone on the right paying attention and someone on the left paying attention. Back and forth you preach to those two people. Yet on this day, there was no one on the right.

Midway through the sermon I had zeroed in on this guy. If no one else loved the Lord, at least he and I did. I preached my 18–year-old soul out and for the entire sermon he looked at me with hardly a blink.

When the sermon ended, the congregation gathered for the obligatory “good job” and handshake. What I heard the most in those days was, “You’re going to be great one day.” Over the course of three years of college, my understanding of that phrase changed.

As a freshman I thought, “Oh wow. I’m going to be great one day. I better start an association like Billy Graham. The Kevin Thompson Evangelistic Association (KTea).”

As a sophomore/junior I thought, “I’m probably not the only one they ever said that to. I won’t be Billy Graham, but maybe I’ll be Rick Warren.”

As a senior I realized, “They said, ‘You’re going to be good.’ What they were actually saying was ‘One day you might be good, but today you were horrible.’”

As I shook hands, the line dwindled down and finally the one person who listened to me approached with his wife. I reached out, shook his hand, said ‘Hello,’ and waited to hear how much the sermon meant to him. When I spoke his wife looked at me and said, “Oh honey, there’s no use trying to talk to him. He lost his hearing in the War.”

So if you are ever preaching and the only person who appears to be listening actually can’t hear, cheer up, I’m sure you’ll be great some day.

Happy Friday.

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