Someone I love dearly recently suggested that I write a book on the comparisons between ministry and tennis.
How about a blog post instead?
It’s actually something I’ve thought about since I first began delivering sermons over 20 years ago now. Why does this whole process of preparing and then giving a message feel so much like getting ready for a big tennis match did back in the day?
Well, here are some reasons that, for me, preaching is like tennis.
1. Preparation. There was no point entering a tennis tournament if I hadn’t practiced in the weeks leading up to it. I spent most of my life honing my shots so that I could compete for the state championship of Texas. In the same way, there’s no point in standing up on a Sunday morning if I haven’t already given a lot of thought and effort to what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it.
2. Routine. The day of a big match, I’d wake up at the same time, eat the same breakfast, and warm up in the same way. Then during the match, I’d use a towel to wipe off the grip after every point. I wouldn’t step on the doubles line as I was changing sides. I’d tie my shoes every two games. (Writing this down 30 years later just makes me see how sick I really was!) But there is comfort in a routine. So today, my process for researching, preparing, and then knowing a message so I can deliver it without notes is remarkably similar every week. There is some variation to be sure but by and large the routine of it all brings a measure of stability. And when do I know that some sickness still remains? When on Sunday morning just before I stand up … I bend down and tie my shoes. Ugh.
3. Excitement. If I was in the middle of a big tournament — say, the Texas State Championship — my internal excitement would build each round. I assume it was a way of adrenaline flowing even before the match started. Today, I get that same kind of edge from Thursday morning through Saturday night — especially if I have something provocative I just can’t wait to say.
4. Environment. I couldn’t bear to play a single point of a match if a gate was open. Today? If the doors to the Worship Center are open during our celebration services (except to let people stream in of course!), I just get all twisted.
5. Competition. By definition, of course, each tennis match has a winner and a loser. No gray area at all. When I am living in the Spirit, I recognize that in ministry our competition is the evil one. When I am living in the flesh, I believe that my competition is a “rival” preacher — someone with a larger flock or a deeper faith than I have. My prayer is to live — and walk and pray — in the Spirit.