Brandon Perkins wrote the short essay below entitled “Trusting the Process.” He quotes his father and the great 19th century preacher Charles H. Spurgeon. Then he describes an encounter he had this summer that called out from him new ministerial skills.
He has been working as camp preacher for the summer programs of one of our best and most valued Partners, Passport Camps, Inc. of Birmingham, Alabama. Every year they exhibit at our National Festival of Young Preachers in hopes of finding young people who will preach for their campers the following summer. Brandon, a graduate of Fisk University and Trevecca Nazarene University, both of Nashville, Tennessee, was chosen this spring as one of those preachers and has spent the summer honing his homiletics skills while presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ to thousands of younger people.
One day a camper came to him and said, “I don’t believe in God. I am having a hard time finding my place in this camp.”
While he was surprised, I am not. There are more people than we realize attending religious functions who have grave doubts about much or all that Christians teach. Along the same lines, there are many people who rarely (or never) darken the door of the church who believe all the doctrines, pray all the prayers, and obey all the commandments of Jesus. You just never know.
This mixture of people who gather inside and outside the church changes the environment of preaching, of course. Preachers these days are ones “without authority” (as Fred Craddock entitled his influential book). We speak into the cauldron of skepticism, cynicism, and doubt mixed up with affirmation, assurance, and certainty; and we speak without the cloak of religious invincibility that ministers of the gospel wore just a few decades ago.
This requires the preacher to approach the people, stand with the people, and listen carefully to the people. It requires the preacher to begin where the people are: their questions, their fears, their hopes, their shames.
This is exactly what Brandon did. He stopped to listen to the heart cry of a single soul.
“Tell me what troubles you,” is a paraphrase of what the young camp preacher said. An older minister many years ago offered a similar avenue of understanding: “Tell me,” he responded when a person protested their unbelief, “about the god in which you do not believe.” He found often that the god they had rejected was likewise the god he had rejected; and thus was created a common ground for the seeds of authentic faith to take root and flourish.
I suspect that Brandon Perkins, AoP ’10, sowed some seeds this summer that will bear fruit for decades to come: some tenfold, some twenty fold, and some even one hundred fold. Jesus said it would happen.