I used to preach–a lot! 30 years as a lead pastor, 26 of those at a church in the Denver suburbs. There we went from 1 to 2 services in the first year, adding a 3rd not long after. With the exception of Saturdays off those first summers, for a quarter of a century I preached 3 and sometimes 4 times a weekend.I loved it! It was central to my life. Weekly, I tried to take biblical truth and connect it to the deep realities of life in the here-and-now. I loved the way the Spirit of God was at work in ways far beyond what I was capable of and those moments when a message aligned in a way that encouraged and challenged. I am a far cry from being the world’s greatest preacher, but most people would point to it as my strongest gift.  Jesus spoke through those messages and impacted people’s lives.I have been away from that for almost 2 years, but now and then I am reminded of my former life.Diane and I were taking a weekend respite from the motel to connect with our family.  

During that time, I visited 24-hour Fitness and as I was leaving, the young man at the desk asked me: “Have you ever been on tv?” He recognizes me, but is not sure from where. I tell him I used to pastor a large church in the area, my face on a screen when I taught. Turns out he and his family had worshiped with us for a while. We chat about some struggles he is having helping a good friend caught in deep addiction. I give a few thoughts, aware of the quagmire that addiction is, not just for the addict, but for those who love them. He is doing the best he knows how, but feels helpless. As I turn to leave, he thanks me for my work at the church, telling me my messages always connected with him. One message convicted him to stay away from his own addiction to pills, though he is embarrassed he can’t remember specifics of the sermon. I tell him I am glad it spoke to him and he avoided that struggle.  I walk away with a promise to pray for him and his friend.

I used to have those things happen pretty regularly; someone coming up and telling me how a message impacted their lives in a Jesus-ward direction. Like I said, I loved preaching and loved feeling like it made some difference for those who listened.I used to preach–a lot!Now, not so much. In the 20 months since I stepped down, I have preached 4 sermons, in 4 churches, each of them about what we are doing on East Colfax. Just 4 messages–for years that was just a weekend’s work.It’s odd. Me, not preach? I used to say that if you woke me at three in the morning, threw a little cold water in my face, gave me a microphone and my Bible and a few minutes to pray, I could give a (somewhat) coherent biblical message.For a while, I was happy to not preach; I was tired and ready for a break. But as Jesus has led us to the heart of urban poverty, it has seemed that a preaching ministry is not, and likely won’t be, the center of what we do here.

Diane and I both feel like God has been preparing us our whole lives to minister here among the poor on East Colfax. So much of our wiring and experience and passion lines up with this work.Except, I don’t much preach anymore. My highest impact gift, on the shelf? That puzzled me. So I had a chat with Jesus:  Why call me to a ministry that isn’t preaching centered? His answer was direct: “Your message is your life.”I am often slow in hearing Jesus, but I got this. The weekly hours I had spent over the years preparing and delivering sermons are now to be invested in practicing radical love among the poor. I’m not in an office or coffee shop studying, refining a theme, finding video clips and choosing songs. 

Now that time is spent face-to-face with the beautiful broken— the wandering souls of prostitutes, drug dealers, addicts, the mentally ill and broken families. Living it, not talking, is my call.Right now, the sermon I am preaching is the life that Diane and I are called to live, here on East Colfax, here among God’s beautiful poor. I think it might be the most important sermon I will ever preach.