We had a potluck supper after one of our worship services recently, something we do regularly. Since I was one of the last people in the food line, I was still eating and talking to the people at the table when another person who had been near the beginning moved to our table and joined in our conversation while he waited for the desert line to begin–we don’t have enough space to put main course and desert out at the same time.
One of the guys told us that he had been a fisherman for all his life and faced some really rough times on the water and that didn’t bother him at all but when he thought about having to stand in front of a group of people, he was terrified. The guy who joined us agreed that getting up in front of people was a major source of fear and he really didn’t like it. Both looked at me and indicated that they figured that I obviously didn’t have a problem with being in front of people.
Both were a bit surprised when I told them that I have preaching and being in front of people for almost 50 years and am still nervous before and during times of being in front of people. And then, I told them at as a teacher of people who preach and lead worship, I would fail anyone who didn’t get nervous when leading worship or preaching.
The interesting thing is that I had actually been thinking about my nervousness as the worship service before the potluck began. Generally, I arrive early and try to have everything set up and ready before worship begins: tablet on and with the order of service and sermon called up, hymn book opened to the first hymn and a marker in place for the responsive reading, scraps of paper with last minute announcements prominently placed where I can see them, water glass positioned in easy reach–because I know from experience that if anything isn’t ready when I start, I will fumble and stumble until it is. That is one expression of my nervousness.
Another is the reality that when I begin, it is a dangerous time–that is when I am going to miss something or say the wrong thing or get my words mixed up or read some number wrong or get someone’s name wrong. This is all made worse on those occasional Sundays when the majority of people show up tired or down because of the weather and don’t give as lot of feedback as the worship begins.
When I tell people things like this, as I did at the potluck, they tend to look at me with skepticism and tell me that I don’t show it. My response is that over the years, the one thing I have learned is how to hide my nervousness, which I do pretty well, unless of course the breeze blows the hymnbook to the wrong page or I lost track of the last minute announcements or I make a mistake.
Should I be better at not being nervous? I don’t think so. The day I stop being nervous about leading worship and preaching and teaching is the day I will officially retire. My nervousness comes from the deep seated awareness of the importance of what I am doing. I am leading God’s people in worship; I am speaking God’s message to his people; I am seeking to let God work through me to touch the lives of his people–and that scares me.
I am afraid that I might get in the way and somehow block God’s approach to his people be letting my stuff get in the way. I am afraid that I might not block the message but somehow weaken it. I am equally afraid when the message actually gets through–who am I that God would be willing to work through me? I stand in the pulpit during worship or sit in the leader’s seat at Bible study very much aware of the wonder and importance of what is going on and really can’t help but be nervous and concerned.
I kind of doubt that the guys at the potluck fully understand these dynamics–but they don’t have to. I, however, need to understand the dynamics and use the nervousness to help me do a better job of doing what God has called me to do.
May the peace of God be with you.