Only 5,275 Hours to Go!

For some say, “Paul’s letters are demanding and forceful, but in person he is weak, and his speeches are worthless!” (2 Cor 10:10)

Have you heard of the 10,000 Hour Rule? Associated with popular writer Malcolm Gladwell and his book Outliers, the principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. While other studies have challenged the rule, let’s just “go with it” for the moment as a thought experiment. 

I was sitting on the toilet before the worship service last Sunday, anxiously scanning my sermon outline, trying to put to death this nagging feeling of inadequacy that never totally goes away. On a positive note, I was using the toilet mainly for some privacy while 7 years ago I was sitting on a toilet before the service fighting actual anxiety-induced indigestion! I’m not nearly that nervous anymore—thanks be to God!

But as I sat on the toilet thinking about my progress as a preacher, the 10,000 Rule popped into my head. “Hmmm…I wonder how many hours I have put into the craft of preparing and delivering sermons at this point? Should I have it mastered by now?” I pulled out my calculator on my phone and crunched some numbers. 

By rough estimate, I’ve probably prepared and preached about 45 sermons per year for the last 7 years. If I put 15 hours into each sermon (which pastors know is a hard number to quantify, since its on our mind all week long, even when we’re not “working on it”), it brings me to 4,725 hours of “deliberate practice” in the art of sermon preparation and delivery. 

What might this mean? Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself? I have plenty of time to get there. I’m not even halfway toward the goal of proficiency in preaching — an activity, by the way, consistently voted the number one phobia of the human species, just inching out the fear of death itself! Given that fact, maybe a little indigestion is understandable. :) 

The Apostle Paul, referring to his apostolic ministry, said, “I die daily” (1 Cor. 15:31). I think many preachers, reflecting on that walk up to the pulpit each Sunday, would say, “I die weekly.” And I wonder if any number of hours of practice can ever prepare someone to die a bit more gracefully each week? So, come Holy Spirit and fill your servants with your power and wisdom! Paul reminds me I’m in good company:

I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor 2:1-5).

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