A few years back I walked into the office of Bruce Wesley, my friend and lead pastor of the church I serve, and with great exasperation told him I thought I needed to quit. I didn’t want to jump ship on serving the local church, I just thought it might be time for me to find another seat on the bus than the one reserved for preaching. It was a suggestion mostly offered in jest. However, looking back at the depth of my despair as that season of frustration in the pulpit continued, maybe it was more sincere than I wanted to admit.
What was the problem? I felt I was in a preaching funk.
It seemed every time I stepped down from the pulpit my heart was full of frustration because, in my estimation, my sermons felt chunky, cluttered, or confused. There was an aimlessness about them. Everything kept coming off flat. They weren’t, for lack of a better term, ‘clicking’ in the hearts of the congregation (or for me for that matter). I would have people speak encouraging things to me after services but they were of the generic, southern politeness, garden-variety remarks that you would get no matter what because people are kind. And even if those messages were good, I didn’t feel that way. And if you don’t think your sermons are good, it doesn’t matter what others tell us. And for quite a season, that’s exactly how I felt. It was a Sahara of preaching because I felt desolate in the pulpit. It seemed no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake it. I still look back on that season and shudder. I hated it and wouldn’t wish it on any preacher.
I confess all this at the risk of being misunderstood. Be assured, I don’t preach for the accolades of others. I’m not a preacher because it feeds my ego, or is central to my identity, or fills some kind of hole in me. However, it’s inescapable that being a preacher is a part of who I am. It’s one of, if not the major gift I bring to the local church in which I serve. And as much as good friends want to encourage you by reminding you preaching is an act of faith (and it is) and that you’re foundational identity is in Jesus (and it is), one can only live off of the “the Word will not return void” comment about your preaching for so long. The honest, gut-level truth is we want to feel like our preaching is making a dent, both in us and those who hear us. We want traction in the pulpit, not ineffectiveness.
So if you find yourself in a funk, I get it. If you’re in a season where instead of hitting triples and home runs you think you’re barely getting to first base preaching-wise, I understand. If Sunday mornings bring you more anxiety than joy because you think once again your people are going to walk away frustrated with your inability to communicate well, I’m with you. You’re not sinful, rebellious, or crazy for thinking those things. Here’s what you are: human. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I hate it for you. I know what it’s like because I’ve been there. Heck, I may be there again before I know it.
What do you do if you’re in a preaching funk? Unapologetically and unceasingly pray that God would deliver you from it. I think being in a season where you are preaching with great traction is a grace from God, which means I don’t “work my way” into it. Now that doesn’t mean there may not be things you can do to enhance your effectiveness in preaching, but there isn’t some magic trick that moves me from single to home runs. I mean, it’s not like you all of a sudden forget how to preach? Nope. You also might consider that the funk may not be due to what is going on in the pulpit but more so what’s going on in your head or heart. That’s the biggest battle – one I think God in his grace must deliver us from.
Why does God allow us these seasons of trial in the pulpit? I think it’s different for everyone. Maybe he wants you to strengthen your faith in him via this kind of season with preaching. Maybe he wants to lay low an increasing pride or ego that wraps itself too much around the preaching event. Or maybe, and we must be open to this as well, he wants you in a different seat now. The point is you won’t know until you work your way through the season, not around it. Do it prayerfully, seeking the help of the Spirit, with the wisdom and reflection of others, and I hope to see you on the other side of it.