My fiancée and I sat in the Sunday School class that morning. An hour later, I would be bringing my first sermon since God called me to preach—my very first one.
I was excited, and more than a little nervous.
It was December 1961, the Christmas season. Margaret Henderson and I would be married five months later and then spend 52 years together serving the Lord. We had no idea all the Lord had in store for us, of course. The one thing we knew and wanted with all our hearts was that God was leading us and would use us.
I was a senior in college and had been called into the ministry eight months earlier.
That holiday week, I had logged 72 hours selling men's clothing in the National Shirt Shop on Second Avenue North in downtown Birmingham. Each evening, when I dragged back to the apartment I shared with Joel Davis, devoted friend and soon to become our best man, I was too tired to study for a sermon.
That I scarcely knew how to prepare a sermon seems to have escaped me. But after all, perhaps I was reasoning, hadn't I heard sermons all my life? Can't anyone do this?
Eventually, I decided that for the Sunday sermon I would just retell the Christmas story and make relevant comments along the way.
What I had not counted on was what happened in that Sunday School classroom one hour before the worship service.
In time, I would learn that the guest preacher does not need to attend a Sunday School class. His mind is on the sermon and he needs to keep focused. But, as I say, I was new at this, we were engaged, and I was eager to show off my lovely bride-to-be to anyone. So, we arrived at Rock Creek Baptist Church, Double Springs, Alabama, in time for Sunday School. They sent us to the young people's class.
The teacher seemed intimidated that the guest preacher was in her class. Eventually, I would learn this too, that when preachers drop in on Sunday School classes only the best teachers can keep their heads about them and not let their feelings of inadequacy rise to the surface.
"Perhaps," she said, "I could ask our guest preacher today to teach this lesson."
That's what she said, staring in my direction.
Keep in mind that I was new at this. It never occurred to me that this teacher had surely spent many hours preparing this lesson. It never occurred to me that her asking me might have simply been a politeness. And most of all, it never occurred to me that I could smile and say, "Thank you, but no. I want to hear you." Something like that.
So, always eager to accept any invitation tossed my way—ask any preacher about his first months of ministry!—I agreed to teach it.
I ended up saying to that class, perhaps a half-dozen young people, everything I had planned to say to the church in my sermon.
By the end of the class period, I was drained. Empty. Spent. And tired.
But the worship service was just ahead. And I was the guest preacher. With nothing to say. Nada.
The sermon lasted perhaps five minutes.
It was, in a word, awful. Worst than awful, it was abominable.
One man said to me on his way out of the church, "I enjoyed that little talk."
To this day, if you want to insult me after a sermon, say you enjoyed "that little talk."
God did me a big favor that morning.
He let me humiliate myself before the congregation by making two huge errors: a) Not adequately preparing the sermon I'd been invited to preach and b) Not turning down the invitation to teach that class, an assignment for which I was woefully unprepared.
That was the first huge lesson the Lord taught me: You must learn to say 'no.'
It's all right to say 'no' to some things.
It's necessary to say 'no' to many things so we can say 'yes' to the right things.
Only by saying 'no' to the lesser may we come to appreciate the greater.
God said to Jeremiah, "If you will learn to extract the precious from the worthless, you shall be as my mouth" (Jeremiah 15:19).
Leave the worthless alone. Tell it 'no.'
Keep the precious. That's the point.
After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.
For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.
Get Spirit-filled content delivered right to your inbox! Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Dr. Steve Greene is now sharing stories, teachings, and conversations with guests who lead with love on Love Leads, a new podcast. Listen now.
Dr. Mark Rutland's
National Institute of Christian Leadership (NICL)
The NICL is one of the top leadership training programs in the U.S. taught by Dr. Mark Rutland. If you're the type of leader that likes to have total control over every aspect of your ministry and your future success, the NICL is right for you!
FREE NICL MINI-COURSE - Enroll for 3-hours of training from Dr. Rutland's full leadership course. Experience the NICL and decide if this training is right for you and your team.Do you feel stuck? Do you feel like you’re not growing? Do you need help from an expert in leadership? There is no other leadership training like the NICL. Gain the leadership skills and confidence you need to lead your church, business or ministry. Get ready to accomplish all of your God-given dreams. CLICK HERE for NICL training dates and details.
The NICL Online is an option for any leader with time or schedule constraints. It's also for leaders who want to expedite their training to receive advanced standing for Master Level credit hours. Work through Dr. Rutland's full training from the comfort of your home or ministry at your pace. Learn more about NICL Online. Learn more about NICL Online.