Every preacher knows what it’s like to leave the pulpit wanting to find a dark recess of his office, curl into the fetal position, and cry himself to sleep after giving what he believes should hardly be considered a sermon. I know I have. While I’ve preached for almost twenty years, regularly get asked to speak at churches in addition to my own, and continue to train others on preaching, I can remember recently where literally seconds after finishing my sermon I told myself, “I’ve got to do something else in life because I am horrible at this!” Whenever you have those Sundays where you feel like you’ve laid an egg in the pulpit, here are some truths to ponder:
- You are likely your worst critic. I bet you’ve heard it before and it’s true. More often than not, the preacher is harsher on himself than anyone else. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any truth to your own self-critique, but it does mean you should measure your estimation against what others see as well. By the way, that assumes you have a group of people who regularly evaluate your messages. If you don’t, make that change now. Not only can others’ critique help you preach better, you may also realize you didn’t do as horribly as you thought.
- It’s not about you anyway. Sometimes the reason preachers feel bad about their less-than-stellar preaching is because they have an over-realized view of themselves. They reckon themselves to be Pastor-Saviors who bring dead people to life with their homiletical prowess. This is simply another manifestation of ministry idolatry – of wrapping one’s identity around performance instead of the Person and Work of Jesus. As a result, these preachers don’t just feel bad about preaching a poor sermon but become despondent thinking they are less significant, less important, and less meaningful when they don’t get the response they believe their sermon deserves. Frankly, a poor sermon may be God’s grace in that it allows you to conduct a heart-check on why you do what you do in the pulpit.
- Another Sunday is around the corner. The best thing about blowing it on Sunday is you have another shot at it in seven days. Whenever I feel I ruined a perfectly good chance to preach well it helps to remember I’ve got another chance to give it my all (and another chance…and another chance…etc.) Like a pro baseball pitcher, you’ll have days when you just don’t have your “stuff,” but one bad appearance (or five) doesn’t a season make. Remember, the good thing is you’ve got another shot at it very soon. To add another baseball maxim: Don’t let your highs be too high and your lows be too low. It’s a long “season” of preaching, you’ll get more than enough innings.
- You must preach by faith. This is the truth I remind myself of often! Remember, the real power behind preaching isn’t your well-crafted illustrations, alliterated points, or the perfect quote deftly placed in your conclusion, it is the Spirit of the living God at work. He is using his Word to work on your hearers’ hearts. Trust that if you highlighted the truth of God’s Word, he is using that to work his power in others. Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” You can bet there are more people than you realize who God ministered to through the message. People confronted with their sin, encouraged by grace, and a whole host of other ministries of the Spirit experienced via the preaching of God’s Word.
Preaching is hard enough, don’t let your emotional perspective make it any worse. Accept the fact you will probably preach messages that depress you in the preaching of them. Welcome to the club. Imperfect preachers imperfectly preaching – sounds exactly like the kind of stuff a perfect God uses for his glory.
And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
– 1 Corinthians 2:3-5