I remember years ago, sitting at “Youth In Action” in Birmingham, AL as a 10th grader.
YIA was a classic youth rally event, bringing people from all around to a the convention center in Birmingham. It was right after Christmas, and I enjoyed every minute of it – from the drive down to the singing in the atrium to the walk across the street for the classes and keynotes. I went many times, with Johnny Markham, Scott Freeman, Jason Bybee – and each time I learned great and wonderful things.
I remember very vividly one night, I was listening to Jeff Walling speak. As he spoke, I was drawn into his masterful storytelling, his vivid descriptions, and powerful insight into the scriptures. After he was done, I leaned over to my friend Jason, and told him “One day, I’m going to be a keynote speaker at Youth In Action just like that. That’s my dream. That’s my goal. If I want to be somebody, I’ve got be a keynote speaker at one of these events.”
Fast forward 20 years.
I still have not been a keynote speaker at YIA, or Winterfest, or anything for that matter. I have had the opportunity to speak at the Faulkner Lectureships and the Lipscomb Lectureships, but my Alma Mater – FHU, has not yet considered me.
Yesterday, I spoke at the Faulkner lectures to a crowd of well over 18 people. There were maybe 20. And I was discouraged.
At that point, I felt like a nobody. Down the hall, rooms were filled to the brim of people known wide and far. Down the hall, there was standing room only for certain speakers. But other rooms were just like mine. Filled with empty seats instead of people listening.
Now, I get the opportunity to speak many times a week to many people. My wonderful church family at GW is 300-350 strong every Sunday morning. I get to teach classes multiple times a week.
But when I go somewhere that I’ve never been heard of, shockingly, no one comes.
I’ve been told that in order to get more gigs as a speaker, to have more people come hear you, to get invited to more lectures – you have to self promote. But one of the things that I’ve learned since that day I leaned over to my friend in Birmingham that night after the message was spoken – I refuse to self promote.
Because the message isn’t about me, its about God.
Sure, I love to see my blog posts get read, and to get numbers on my stats, and to have so many “likes” on my Facebook posts.
But the message isn’t about me, its about God.
Its sad that when I think about my favorite preachers – its usually because of their style, their voice, their delivery, the ability to capture my attention – but rarely is it because they connect me to God in a deeply personal way with their message. Its usually personal preference.
In the preaching world – there’s a lot of “politics”. Who do you know, who do you hang out with, are you popular, how big is your church, how popular is your church, do you say the right things regardless of scripture….the list goes on and on. But I often find that the best messages I hear are the ones from people I don’t know.
I realize that if I want to be somebody in the preaching world, I have to become a nobody, and let God rule my message, my delivery, my style. I can’t worry about why people aren’t calling me left and right to be a guest speaker. I can’t worry about why I don’t demand a crowd of thousands to listen to my words.
All I can do is be who I am – a servant of God with a message.
And what I’ve learned is this – it feels really awesome when people come up to me on Sunday morning and say things like “That one really spoke to me,” or “Wow, were you listening in on my struggles this week, because that really meant the world to me” – and I wouldn’t trade knowing the fact I’ve helped one person for multitudes of people in my audience.
The most moving stories in evangelism as you read through the New Testament are the ones that don’t involve the crowds, but the individuals. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. Jesus and Zacchaeus. Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Interactions between Jesus and the twelve. The stories move us because they are personal, they are relational.
And for that reason, I really don’t care if I speak to 10 people or 10,000 people – so long as I can develop relationships with those I meet along the way.
Our youth minister, Scott Tillman, spoke yesterday as well before the entire crowd at the Faulkner lectures in the morning Keynote. He did a stellar job, and said something that will stick with me for a while. He reminded us that the only thing he believes we will take with us to Heaven is our relationships. And I think that’s true.
Its not about your place at the table, its about your relationship with those you feast with.
Sure, I’d still love to keynote at one of those grand events, but for now, I’m perfectly content preaching the word to my GW family, and those I come in contact with daily. I will strive daily to please God – not man. I will strive daily to reach as many as I can. I will strive daily to grow the Kingdom. May God bless us as we figure out the best way to be somebody for Him, instead of somebody to the world.