One Thousand and Counting
On the advice of an older pastor (well, he was probably the same kind of age then as I am now) I have kept a preaching log, in which I record all the times I speak in public. It’s a somewhat idiosyncratic list: if I do a whole day of teaching that gets logged as just one talk, whereas if I preach the same thirty-minute sermon three times on a Sunday, that gets logged as three talks. For some reason I haven’t logged weddings I have spoken at, but have recorded some of the funerals (Eccl.7:2). But overall, since speaking from Luke 9 at a university Christian Union meeting in October 1993, to preaching from Luke 19 at Gateway Church this past Sunday, I have delivered a thousand public talks.
This works out at preaching more than forty times a year, although it took me seven years to clock up my first one hundred messages. Since taking on the primary teaching role in the churches I have served, and then with going to multiple Sunday services, the pace has quickened substantially.
I reckon it was only after I had preached about 300 times (a milestone that took thirteen years to reach) that I began to get to grips with the process. Learning how to prepare a message, working on delivery, the whole A to Z of communicating to a crowd, takes time and repetition to get on top of. But if Malcolm Gladwell is right, and it takes 10,000 hours practise to ‘become good’ at something, then I still have an awfully long way to go – death will catch up with me long before I hit that total.
Another way to calculate this is that in the nine years I have been at Gateway I have preached on 266 Sundays. A rough estimate is that adding together preparation and delivery time, each Sunday represents about ten hours work – so, thus far I have put in about 2,500 hours of labour. At the same rate, I’d need to be here nearly forty years (and be well into my 70’s!) to clock up the 10,000 hour mark.
That feels rather dispiriting, but it is probably not an accurate reflection of the reality; because the reality is that sermon preparation is going on all the time, albeit not the conscious, sit at a desk and put pen to paper preparation. Learning the ways of a congregation, and of the town which the congregation is from, is an exercise in constant preparation. There is an exegesis of the people, as well as the text, and a constant focus on seeking to connect the text to the people. This means I hit 10,000 hours some time back. But it is also an argument for pastors staying in their towns, and with their congregations for lengthy periods. It really does take a long time to get to know a place, and a people, and to be a pastor, rather than just a deliverer of talks.