Sunday, November 12, 2006

Failing The License Exam: What I Learned From My Failure

This last week I took my license examination to preach. In the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) if someone is regularly preaching, they should be licensed. That basically means that the presbytery gives the one applying for the license a test in theology, Bible, Christian experience, and church government. The one applying for license also needs to preach sermon for the committee doing the testing. I did well in the theology examination. I had studied theology all summer for the exam. I basically read G.I. Williamson's to books on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, I read for a second time G.I. Williamson's book on the Westminster Confession of Faith. I read harmony of the Westminster Standards; the Shorter Catechism, the Larger Catechism, and the Confession of Faith each side by side coordinated by topic and content. I also read the Westminster Standards. So I did a lot of preparation and that paid off. I did well on the theology section. I passed on the church government examination. To prepare for the church government section I simply read the Book of Church Order. I wondered if that was enough, but I passed. For the Bible section did nothing to prepare. I read the Bible daily. I feel by and large, I know my Bible. Wrong. I failed this part of the test. There was a lot of questions regarding where you find something in the Bible. I can quickly find all these places, I just could not tell you book and chapter in the Bible I would find something. To prepare for the sermon I simply preached a sermon. I got kudos for my time management, for my tone and for my illustrations. I fell short on a coherent Christ focused message. I was supposed to give my sermon in 15 minutes and so I dispensed with reading the entire passage up front, something I would never do in a worship service. I assumed my audience was a bunch of preachers so I did not want to be too brash in my tone to them nor did I assume my audience was in need of salvation. They said that I did not have a Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) in my sermon. This, as I understand it, explains all problems in terms of our fallen nature, which of course I believe but I did not integrate into my sermon. My sermon also failed.

So basically I failed my examination because I don't know my Bible and can't preach. This is sort of like a mechanic who can't turn a wrench, a carpenter who can't hit a nail or a soldier who can't fire a gun. So, I am feeling pretty bummed about it all. I'm not giving up but I feel bummed. To top this bummer of a week off, I had a relative tell me I need to meet an acquaintance of theirs who went into the ministry and failed. He said I might learn from the experiences of these guy who had to give up on ministry. Message: "Terry, don't go into the ministry because you are going to fail". I do worry about failure quite a bit since I have failed on multiple occasions in my life.

What am I going to do about this? Well, I'm not sure if I should attempt to retake the portions of the examination I failed at sooner or later. I might be able to retake those portions in January. But will I have time for remedial study on these areas? The committee suggested that I outline all the books of the Bible. I can do that, but I'm not sure that is enough. I have focused my competency in the Scriptures on interpretation and linguistic interpretation. Neither, of course, were on the test. The committee told me I should read Bryan Chapell's book Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. They also gave me a worksheet to work through during the preparation phase of a sermon. I think these can work. I'm more optimistic about getting this sermon form down than I am about mastering the Bible in a way that will cause me to pass the test. One of the things said more than once was that an expository sermon is not a running commentary on a passage. I'm not sure I'm convinced that a running commentary is a bad thing, but I don't think I will pass if I use that style.

I learned that I'm not as strong on Bible knowledge that I thought I was. In my 20's I focused a lot on outlines and Scripture memorization but I found something lacking. I found that passages that I had memorized, I still did not know the interpretation. In my 30's I focused on interpretation of the Bible. But now in my 40's I still need to go back and learn the book outlines and memorize Scripture.

I learned that I'm not as strong as I sometimes like to think that I am. I need more of God's grace than I thought I did.

I learned that people often don't hear you. Communication is difficult work and has to be done with wisdom.

I learned that some people will not understand the sacrifice needed for ministry.

About a week before I took the license examination orals I met an old friend at the grocery store. He and his wife attend a Pentecostal church. She is an ordained Pentecostal minister. I shared that I was about to take the license examination and the rigor involved. She said that when she was ordained that all she had to do was explain her sense of call and her testimony. I sensed that she felt I was bringing discredit upon her ordination. She wanted to engage me in a debate about women in ministry which I tried hard to not get sucked into but had to defend my self just a little. It was a strange experience. My friend just wanted to say hello. I just wanted to share what was going on with me. Instead this debate became the focus on the conversation. I think my friend's wife just wanted to be respected. She chose a route to ordination that was easy and achievable. I have chosen a route that is more difficult. I do not mean her any disrespect but I need to know that I have done more than punched my ticket with regard to ordination. I need to know that I have the right people skills, I have strong Bible knowledge, I the requisite communication skills and I have the right spiritual maturity. This test has shown me that I do have some gaps. I have been weighed and found lacking.

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