I am thankful for my time in Bible college. I enrolled at Ozark Christian College in the fall of 1976 and while there I developed lifelong friendships, a greater understanding of the Scriptures, and a deep love for preaching.
Don DeWelt was my homiletics professor, and every class was memorable. That course provided me with a better understanding of how to preach, and it awakened my love for preaching. But it wasn’t just my homiletics class, it was also the opportunity to hear great preachers in chapel services and at special events.
I learned about preaching with passion by listening to Tom Moll. I learned about urgency in preaching by listening to Dave Bycroft. I learned about the dignity and honor of preaching by listening to Ken Idleman. And I learned about the persuasive power of preaching by listening to Ron Carter. I have great respect for each of these men who continue to be some of my favorite preachers.
With everything I learned about preaching at Ozark, however, one thing was missing. I didn’t learn about how to preach during the dry seasons of ministry. That’s not a criticism, it’s simply an acknowledgement of reality. As someone who has served as lead pastor in a church plant, a turnaround church, and now a megachurch, I know there are dry seasons of ministry, regardless of a church’s size. I’m talking about seasons when God seems far away . . . when you’re dealing with personal struggles . . . when you’re not seeing fruit . . . when you’re uncertain about the future. Add the unprecedented consequences of a worldwide pandemic, and every honest preacher will tell you he knows what it’s like to be in a dry season of ministry.
So, what do you do? How do you continue to be an effective preacher who shares life-giving hope to people when you aren’t feeling hopeful? I’ll offer three suggestions.
Embrace the Power of Lament
Simply stated, lament is a God-given way to deal with our emotional struggles. This is a prominent component of the book of Psalms, where at least 60 of the 150 chapters are psalms of lament. That means a full 40 percent of all psalms are written about bad situations. Christopher Wright said,
The point we should notice (possibly to our surprise) is that it is all hurled at God, not by his enemies but by those who loved and trusted him the most. It seems, indeed, that it is precisely those who have the closest relationship with God who feel most at liberty to pour out their pain and protest to God without fear of reproach. Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled for us in abundance.
Everyone needs a “release valve” when they deal with the pressure of life, and God has clearly given us one in words of lament.
Be Honest and Direct About What You Need from God
In Exodus 33, Moses descended Mount Sinai to find the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. He then returned to the mountain to ask God to forgive the people, only to have God tell him to go and lead the people to the Promised Land (Exodus 32:34). God reiterated his promise to deliver the land to the people, and then he said, “But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way”(Exodus 33:3).
Ultimately, Moses went into the tent of meeting to talk to God. “If your Presence does not go with us,” Moses said, “do not send us up from here”(Exodus 33:15).During a dry season, Moses told God exactly what he needed. He needed to know the Presence of God would go with him as he continued to obey God. I say the same prayer before I preach. I say, “God, empty me of myself, forgive my sin, fill me with your Spirit, and preach through me with clarity and conviction.” That’s not vain repetition, because I pray those words with sincerity.
Preaching is a calling from God that allows us to participate in the work of God, and if he’s not present, our preaching has no power. So, when we’re in a dry season, we need to tell God what we need from him to be faithful to our calling.
Preach What You Know to Be True
Psalm 13 is one of those psalms of lament. David began by writing about how he felt. He said, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (vv. 1-2).
Clearly, David was in a dry season as he wrote those words. But if you fast-forward to the end of this psalm, you see a reversal. “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me” (vv. 5, 6).
What happened in-between? A simple explanation is that David began with what he didn’t understand about God and ended with what he did understand. I can’t remember where I heard or read this quote: “Writers heal themselves with their writing.” I think the same is true about preaching. Preachers can heal themselves with their preaching. In other words, sometimes the best way to deal with a difficult season of life is to let your preaching remind you of what you know to be true about God, regardless of how you feel. Dry seasons of ministry are a reality, but they don’t have to lead to dry preaching.