There’s nothing that’ll humble you faster than looking over your old sermons.
Like lots of preachers I know, my life in the pulpit began while I was still in high school. First came preaching for Youth Week — that’s the Sunday when young people substitute in all the roles normally occupied by adult church members (although our church wouldn’t let us elect a group of youth deacons to stand in the parking lot and smoke).
Then it was on to college as a “ministerial student” where I practiced my craft on nursing home residents — thank goodness they could turn down their hearing aids as needed. I soon moved up the ladder to preaching weekend youth revivals — the crowds usually averaged age 65 and over but the love offerings were much better than in the nursing homes.
Recently I pulled out an old folder and discovered sermon notes from those early days. I suppose I was saving them for my memoirs but after reviewing the product of “my early career” I think it likely that the evidence is best destroyed.
As I read some of the things I said back then, I can only shake my head in disbelief. Of course, that puts me in good company. Witness a few examples of the “we wish we hadn’t said that” society (courtesy of The Experts Speak by Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky, Pantheon Books, 1984):
“Nothing will ever separate us…. We’ll probably be married another ten years.” (Elizabeth Taylor, five days before announcing her divorce from Richard Burton in 1984)
“If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.” (Dr. W. C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954)
“Direct thought is not an attribute of femininity. In this woman is now centuries … behind man.” (Thomas A. Edison, 1912)
“I don’t need bodyguards.” (Jimmy Hoffa, one month before his disappearance in July 1975)
“Dewey is sure to be elected.” (Drew Pearson, October 14, 1948)
“I would like to suggest that Ronald Reagan is politically dead.” (Tom Pettit, NBC correspondent, January 1980)
“The United States will not be a threat to us for decades — not in 1945 but at the earliest in 1970 or 1980.” (Adolf Hitler, 1940)
“I tell you Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad soldiers; we will settle the matter by lunch time.” (Napoleon Bonaparte, at breakfast with his generals on June 18, 1815 — the morning of the Battle of Waterloo)
“I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” (Editor of the San Francisco Examiner, 1889)
“We can confidently say of American fiction that, while it may not be national, and may not be great, it will have at least the negative virtue of being clean.” (Bliss Perry, Editor of The Atlantic Monthly, 1902)
“The cinema is little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.” (Charlie Chaplin, 1916)
“Gone With the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his face and not Gary Cooper.” (Gary Cooper, after turning down the role of Rhett Butler, 1938)
“(Babe) Ruth made a great mistake when he gave up pitching. Working once a week, he might have lasted a long time and become a great star.” (Tris Speaker, 1921)
“That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?” (Rutherford B. Hayes, 1876, on the telephone)
“I think there is a world market for about five computers.” (Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943)
“Man will not fly for fifty years.” (Wilbur Wright, 1901)
“Few predictions seem more certain than this: Russia is going to surpass us in mathematics and the social sciences…. In short, unless we depart utterly from our present behavior, it is reasonable to expect that by no later than 1975 the United States will be a member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” (George R. Price, former Manhattan Project physicist, 1957)
“I am finished.” (Winston Churchill, 1915)
“I would have made a good pope.” (Richard M. Nixon)

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About The Author

Michael Duduit is the founding publisher and editor of Preaching magazine. He is also the founding Dean of the new College of Christian Studies and Professor of Christian Ministry at Anderson University in Anderson, South Carolina. Michael is author and editor of several books, including the Handbook of Contemporary Preaching (Broadman & Holman Press), Joy in Ministry (Baker Books), Preaching With Power (Baker) and Communicate With Power (Baker). From 1996 until 2000 he served as editor of the Abingdon Preaching Annual series. His email newsletter, PreachingNow, is read each week by more than 40,000 pastors and church leaders in the U.S. and around the world. He is founder and director of the National Conference on Preaching and the International Congress on Preaching, which has been held in 1997 at Westminster Chapel in London, 2002 at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and 2007at Cambridge. He has been a pastor and associate pastor, has served a number of churches as interim pastor, and speaks regularly for churches, colleges and conferences.

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