When I began in the preaching ministry seven years ago at the age of seventeen, my father, who is also a minister, told me, “Brandon, the sign that God is pleased with your sermon is if souls are added to the church because of it.” I took this advice to heart and during the course of my ministry I ascribed to 19th century preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s philosophy on preaching where he suggested, “Preach the word, place it in its canonical context, and make a bee-line to the cross.” This philosophy made me, in every sermon, ensure that I drew attention to the work of Christ on the cross of Calvary and His redemptive work of salvation in our lives.
Fast forward to this summer. Since June, I have been blessed to serve as a summer camp pastor through Passport camps, which is an organization that provides fresh encounters with Christ and ways to extend grace to the world for children and youth. At the time of this post I have been blessed to preach to over a thousand youth and adults and have been blessed to share numerous sermons from our theme of Life Together. However, during the course of this summer that philosophy that had become engrained in my preaching mentality was confronted by a call for pastoral care.
While camp is in session, I am blessed to interact with several youth throughout the course of the day. During one particular session, I had a camper come up to me at the conclusion of my sermon with tears in their eyes and said, “Mr. Brandon, I’m an atheist.” In that moment I was void of all expression and thought, because I simply did not know how to respond to this camper. However, what prompted the response I gave to them were their tears.
As they cried they told me that no one knew that they weren’t a believer and they were struggling to find their place at this Christian camp. I could have easily pointed them to the words of John 3:16 or Romans 6:23. I could have talked to them about the work of Christ on Calvary or the horrors of Hell, but in that moment those tears prompted a different response.
In that moment I embraced them and simply said, “I know what it feels like to have doubts even as a Christian, and I do not believe in God solely based on the Bible but I believe in God also because of my life experiences. So I hope that God relieves God self to you this week.”
My mentor, the Rev. Dr. Jason R. Curry, always says that the most important thing for a minister to know is how to love the people of God. In that moment, God gave me words that maybe no one else would have told that student. Many people would have immediately ignored the tears and talked about salvation versus damnation, but I comforted them with love through my own experiences and assured them that they were at the right place for God to do God’s work in their life.
If we preach salvation to the multitudes but ignore those same persons’ pains and emotions, we have done a disservice to the Gospel. Thus, after that week in ministry, that same camper left not making a public confession of Christ as Lord and Savior, but I rest assured in the process that those words and actions that I shared that day will work in their life as God completes the process of transforming their life.