You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.
Since Christianity started, men and women have had the responsibility to preach the Scriptures to their gathered congregations. Some rode horseback through dangerous frontiers and others left the comfort and familiarity of their hometowns to take the good news to distant lands. Many of us studied long years and practiced our craft wherever and whenever the opportunity was presented. No matter how we arrived in the pulpits we now steward, preaching is energizing, frustrating, and exhilarating. Sometimes, all this happens on the same day.
Most weekends, I’m satisfied that I gave my best effort, meaning I prayed, prepared and presented the Scriptures with absolute joy. On a handful of weekends, however, I’ve wrestled with self-doubt and wished that I never had to preach again. But, alas, I repent, pray some more and saddle back up for another weekend.
Over the years I’ve stumbled upon on some misunderstandings about my oratorial calling. I’ve spent many hours with discouraged pastors and frustrated congregants. There are four things I end up sharing to both groups.
1. Pastors are really invested in the message.
Preaching is a serious matter to most pastors. Hours have been spent studying the texts, praying for the meetings, and thinking about innovative ways to engage people in a story that started thousands of years ago. When the weekend arrives, we’re invested emotionally and spiritually in a 30-minute message that has the potential to change the destinies of those listening.
Or, it can be awful. Even then, the Holy Spirit can take the scraps of human effort and make something beautiful. This is a pastor’s work – to teach truths that will probably offend, to encourage the discouraged saints, to compel the cynic to reconsider and to awaken the spiritual sleepers. Because we’ve poured ourselves into this moment of speaking and exhorting, we may need some space after the service to just be alone. Preachers feel really emptied after a sermon, which leads me to the second truth.
2. Preaching is exhausting work.
If you’re not tired after preaching, you’re not doing it right. When a sermon has ended, our adrenaline glands are depleted and the emotional energy lost isn’t easily replenished. It’s when we feel the most vulnerable, even if everything went great. For many, we have to regroup and deliver the same message again in less than an hour to another weekend gathering. Afterwards, we just need a good nap, a long walk and some sunshine to begin feeling human again. That usually happens by Tuesday morning. Seriously.
3. Preaching should be more substance than style
Our Western culture is saturated by entertainment and celebrities. Our personal time is entertainment time, therefore the culture shouts to pastors, “If I give my personal time to church, you need to entertain me!” That’s a dangerous trap. Sermons certainly need to be engaging, which means it’s ok to have some fun and to laugh, but our messages are not a spiritual stand-up act. The moment style is prioritized over the weighty substance of Scripture, we and our churches are in trouble. Be wary of preaching that divests itself from the full breadth of human emotions and fails to jar us free from apathy or deception. If you’re not regularly challenged or even convicted by preaching, you’re probably just being entertained.
4. Preaching only starts the conversation.
People have huge expectations from pastors and their sermons. Almost everyone has something they wish the pastor would spend more time on each week. “Preach more on the Holy Spirit.” “Don’t talk about money.” “Speak more on politics.” “Please do not speak on politics.” “Today is National ___________ Day and you need to preach about it.” By the way, do all of this is in less than 30 minutes. Sigh.
Neither preachers nor their sermons were designed to answer all our questions. In fact, the best sermons teach us to ask better questions and then point us along the Scriptural path compelling us to study more. Preaching primes the pump, but seldom fills the tank. Each Sunday, I want people to take one more step, to keep following Jesus and not give up. I want saints to be strengthened, the cynics to be convinced and the prodigal to find their way home. Those are weighty tasks and will probably take a month of Sundays to accomplish, or even a lifetime.