I’m sure every preacher can think of a time when they were convinced God had given them a life-changing, church-altering message. I’m talking about a message born out of significant time alone with God and his Word. I’m referring to a message that grew inside of the preacher’s heart for some time as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, led them into all truth.
I remember a weekend like that at the church I serve. I was convinced my message that week had a special anointing from God. I believed it was a message that could change lives as well as the future of our church. So, when the weekend rolled around, I was prepared, and I preached that message with passion and conviction. After the first service, I was standing outside our Guest Connection room when I noticed a woman headed my direction. She had a smile on her face, and she grabbed my hand with both of her hands. I was certain she was going to thank me for the message or tell me how God had spoken to her through my words. Instead, she said, “Pastor, I just wanted to let you know the toilets in the women’s bathroom aren’t flushing.” And with that, she was out the door.
That first response to my “life-changing, church-altering message” did two things for me. First, it tempered my expectations for the remaining services. Second, it reminded me of a quote from Bruce Thielemann:
There is no special honor in preaching, there is only special pain. The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors. And like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest. To preach, to really preach is to die naked a little at a time and to know each time you do it that you must do it again.
STAY THE COURSE
Preaching has been a great blessing to me for over 40 years. At times, though, it has been a burden. How do you stay committed, passionate, and effective in your preaching for the long haul? Here’s what works for me.
First, believe that your best sermon will be your next sermon. I remember attending a monthly minister’s lunch in Houston, Texas, during my early years of ministry and hearing Max Hickerson say, “My best sermon will always be my next sermon.” I loved those words, and they have stayed with me ever since. When you view your next sermon as your best sermon, you will approach the preparation with commitment and conviction.
I’ve heard preachers my age and older say that while they continue to enjoy preaching, they’ve gotten to the place where they don’t enjoy the sermon preparation. Believing your next sermon will be your best sermon can help you embrace the time and effort it takes to prepare. As I write this article, I’m in the middle of writing a sermon from Psalm 118 that I’m sure will be the best sermon I’ve ever preached.
Second, spend time with preachers. I never realized the benefit of spending time with other preachers until I served on the board of directors of The Solomon Foundation. During my six years of service, I spent significant time with great preachers like Jerry Harris, Tim Liston, Barry Cameron, Dennis Bratton, Don Wilson, Jim Putman, Rusty Russell, and Dave Dummitt, to name a few. And while we didn’t spend all our time sitting around talking specifically about preaching, we talked about ministry, ministry challenges, and ministry passion. When I listened to them talking about their churches or leading workshops in our pastor’s conferences, it inspired me to be the best preacher I could be. And there were times when we did talk about preaching. I know it’s not easy to find time to spend with other preachers, but if you can, it will be refreshing and inspiring.
Third, share your pulpit. I should have embraced this practice much earlier in my ministry. For the longest time I felt like I was hired, first and foremost, to preach, so I needed to be in the pulpit every weekend unless I was out of town. I admire younger preachers who have known intuitively that sharing the pulpit is a good thing. Utilize your staff and embrace the opportunity to mentor young preachers. Put a line item in your budget for guest preachers and “go for broke” when it comes to whom you invite. Do whatever you have to do to share your pulpit.
Preaching can be a lonely calling. Even in a large church and even with a large staff, there will still be times when you feel the loneliness of your calling. You can pour your heart—your life—into a sermon only to have it met with little enthusiasm. You can go long periods without a lot of affirmation. There will be times when the responsibility of standing before people on behalf of God will feel overwhelming.
But preaching is also a high calling. I love the way the late Haddon W. Robinson captured that truth when he said, “The God who speaks with utmost integrity must have messengers who represent him well.” Preaching is a high calling because it’s a calling to speak the words of God.
I received a letter in the mail today from a man who has been a part of my church for about 10 years. His very kind letter ended like this: “I hope this letter encourages you to persevere. I appreciate your honesty in preaching and your adherence to the Word of God. Know that we are praying for you.”
His words encouraged me, and they were way better than, “Pastor, the toilets in the women’s bathroom aren’t flushing.”