I love preaching.
It is a great joy, as well as a daunting responsibility. I’ve been preaching now for about half my life. I can barely remember a Sunday before regular preaching duties. I don’t want to think of a retirement without preaching. Please don’t misunderstand me: preaching is not my self-justification. I happily listen to other preachers. I don’t ‘need’ to preach. It’s just that preaching is the consuming reality of my life.
It’s also the hardest thing I do in my week. Nothing gives me so many worries, frustrations, such a huge sense of disappointment in myself, and such a sense of inadequacy in front of my church. I would so often rather visit, administer, do leadership tasks, tidy my study, even do door-to-door evangelism! It’s honestly the hardest part of my ministry.
People in evangelical churches occasionally catch glimpses of the work and cost of preaching, and they’re almost always surprised and often shocked. ‘It takes you how long to prepare your sermons?’ Ask a promising younger man in church if he would consider preaching his first sermon, and his breezy confidence is soon exchanged for a careworn, weight-of-the-world expression as the appointed Sunday comes into view. There have been happier faces going to the guillotine. I know men who’ve worked in big business and who’ve had high pressure jobs who are now in full-time Word ministry. They tell me how the responsibilities of handling God’s Word brings a quite unique strain, week in, week out. Perhaps no-one else realises what a heavy responsibility the preacher’s task is except the man in the pulpit. I’m fine with that, but if you’re not a preacher, I think it helps you to be aware of it.
I preach twice most Sundays. That means that sermon preparation dominates my week. And I’m a pastor who loves to be out, seeing people, training the gifted and evangelising unbelievers. I have to discipline myself to be in the Bible and in the books that will help me to preach accurately and thoughtfully. When I’m in the car or doing exercise I will try to listen to sermons on the passages I’m preaching. I’m always hunting out illustrations, scanning the news, mentally playing back conversations – anything which I can use to make my ministry fresh and helpful. I go to bed with sermon prep, and wake up with it. Preaching is consuming. I actually love it that way.
My Sundays now are fuelled by two things – grace and adrenalin (caffeine doesn’t count). I wake early on a Sunday with that churning, ‘why aren’t I a postman, or a marine biologist, or just about anything else?’ feeling. I get to my study early to pray and work through my notes. I preach at church just as well as I’m able, grace allowing. After I’ve preached again in the evening I frequently feel on a high, relieved at the close of another Lord’s Day, so grateful for the privilege, cheered by signs of engagement from my hearers, and eager to start the work of prep all over again for next week.
Mondays are the pits. Ask any preacher. In the cold light of day we see just how far short we fell from what we wanted and hoped for. As we review our sermons (or get others to), we realise how much clearer, kinder, more interesting or accurate we should have been. We see the many ways our preaching failed – again. We ask the Lord for forgiveness (we sometimes feel like asking the congregation for theirs, though I don’t think that will help things). The best thing to do on a Monday is to believe the gospel, get humble again, and get into the study to start work on Sunday’s ministry.
There’s a famous old statement on preaching which we preachers love. The American pastor Phillips Brooks famously said, ‘If any man be called to preach, don’t stoop to be a king’. I love these words, because I know how they affirm the preacher’s task. I passionately believe that preaching is the highest and best calling this side of glory.
Two things to do
Two requests for church members: ﬁrstly, please, please encourage your preacher. He needs to know that you’re listening, taking in the Word, growing, and following the Saviour as the fruits of his ministry. Please don’t assume he knows you value his ministry. On his worst days he probably thinks you don’t at all, and can’t bring himself to ask you. Send him an email, buy him a book, find fresh ways to express your appreciation, beyond ‘thanks for that’ as you hurry out of church. Build him up, so that he can build you up, week in, week out.
Secondly, pray for your preachers. Pray for them as they prepare through the week, and as Sunday comes. Pray for them once they’ve discharged their duties. Preaching is, after all, hard work, and heavenly work. A church’s praying will be the power of the pastor’s preaching. Believe it, and expect it.
Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.