At six p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, some time in the spring of 1990 I preached my first sermon. The sermon was hideous. The church was packed. I was only seventeen years of age. Because of the popularity of my preacher-father, when people found out I was venturing down his same path the opportunities to preach began to trickle in. I remember speaking at women’s day’s, men’s days, usher’s days, youth days, youth retreats and youth revivals. I know these days and events had to have been a headache for the pastors of these churches (no doubt they inherited them), but they were my training ground, allowing me the opportunity to hone my craft.
The acclaimed writer Malcolm Gladwell has argued that greatness in any field is not so much a product of giftedness, as it is hard work. It’s what he describes as the ten thousand hour rule. To prove his point, Gladwell references such luminaries as Tiger Woods, The Beatles and Chess Champion, Bobby Fischer. Tiger spent countless hours on the driving range and junior tournaments before he conquered the PGA Tour. Gladwell says that before the British Invasion of the mid-sixties, the Beatles developed their craft and chemistry in obscure night clubs in Germany. And before the world knew who Bobby Fischer was, he hung out in parks and homes mastering the art of chess.
I was at the driving range the other day inching my way towards my own ten thousand hours when I saw our club pro working with a boy who was hitting immaculate shots with what appeared to be minimal effort. Draws and fades; towering shots, and stingers- the kid could do it all. On a break I asked the pro if he thought the kid could make it on tour? Without any hesitation he prophesied that he would be on tour, that at the age of 12 this kid had it all. Curious, I wanted to know if the pro thought this young man was born with the gift, or if it came through hard work? Hard work was his response. This boy spends hours a day working on his game.
Preachers don’t get better unless they actually preach. As I look through the rearview mirror on my own development, I thank God for the driving ranges that the traditional African-American church afforded me. If it were not for these youth days (men’s days, etc) I would not have grown at the rate that I have. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying that I didn’t take these early opportunities seriously, I did. The people were never viewed by me as practice. I preached my heart out. Nor am I saying that hard work is more important than the Lord’s hand. However, what cannot be ignored is that the Lord used these Sunday evening services, and special days as part of his strategic ten thousand hour plan for my life.
I’m concerned for the next generation of preachers who do not have these “driving ranges” to hone their craft. It’s no secret that the proliferation of men’s days, women’s days, Sunday evening services and youth days are on the endangered species list. Our postmodern culture has little tolerance to endure those who are practicing. They want to hear greatness…now. If my pastor were to announce today that a seventeen year old kid was preaching his first sermon at the evening service, I’m pretty sure the house would not be packed the way it was in 1990.
Oh, and while I’m thinking about it, I also came up during an era when it was common to see little kids beating on the drums, or the keys after church as the people were beginning to leave. This was their own driving range. As they grew older they were allowed to play a song here or there, and then finally they became a part of the band. Today we don’t have time to let these little kids practice. We want great now, so we go out and pay for it.
As pastors we are called to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Equipping is not just dumping information on people, but it is giving them chances to actually do ministry under our watchful eye. In other words, we’ve got to allow people the chance to practice.
You know when the New York Yankees were at their best? It’s not now, when they’ve become the all-star team of the major leagues, cherry picking the best talent off other teams. Instead, the New York Yankees were the best when they patiently developed their own talent through their minor league farm system. Players like Mickey Mantle, and Derrick Jeter weren’t instant successes acquired through free agency, but they were cultivated through seasons of practice within their organization. They were allowed to hone their craft, and the results were championships.
I fear that the mega church movement has turned many of our churches into aspiring modern day New York Yankees who want to grow through free agency- bringing in the best and the greatest now- instead of slowly developing through their own farm system, allowing their leaders to practice.
Pastor, before you kill those special services and days, remember that every church needs a farm system. Every church needs a driving range.