When the passion is gone: 10 things that can dampen our passion for preaching
A few years ago I led a preaching workshop and later one pastor confessed:
During the time I met with my mentor my preaching was at its lowest. I was tired of preaching; it had become a job and was no longer a passion and a God-given privilege to share the word. I felt like nobody cared for my preaching. I put so much effort into preparing a sermon then twenty or less people show up for church service.
It’s not uncommon for preachers to feel like this man. Perhaps the preparation has become a joyless grind. Or, the delivery is regularly flat and unengaging. You just can’t work up much excitement for preaching anymore. Then the days when you don’t have to preach become more frequent and more eagerly anticipated.
How can you recapture your passion (assuming, of course, preaching God’s word is something you once loved)? In this article I want to identify ’10 Stale Makers’. Ten things that can hurt or kill your passion for preaching. Next time we’ll look at ’10 Stale Breakers’
1. The Endless Roundabout of the Sunday Sermon
Perhaps you’re the only preacher in the church. You might even be expected to produce two new sermons every week. You may have to deliver the same sermon three or four times over the weekend. The endless preparation and delivery, week in and week out, year in and year out can slowly erode your passion.
2. The Silence of an Ungrateful Congregation
It’s interesting how churches develop cultures. Some churches have developed an appreciative culture. People express thanks to those who, in various ways, serve them. Sadly, many churches have never developed a culture of appreciation. While, ultimately, the only commendation that matters is God’s on the last day, it’s hard to keep on persevering as a preacher if your people rarely express gratitude. It’s particularly disheartening to have preached, what you know, was a pretty good sermon and not hear a single, “Thank you”.
We don’t want empty words or flattery, but we all need encouragement keep fresh in our preaching.
3. The Constant Critics
One step down from the thankless congregation is those people who have the ‘spiritual gift of constant criticism’. It’s usually, “your sermons are too long” or, “why do you always go on about…grace/the cross/judgment/_____” (fill in the blank). Of course, we’d be just as foolish to ignore the criticisms as we would to undiscerningly bask in all the praise, but the drip-drip effect of constant criticism takes its emotional toll.
4. Loss of Confidence
Perhaps you’ve never been confident as a preacher. Perhaps you’re going through a spell when you feel your sermons are regularly ‘below par’. Perhaps more generally you feel that you’re performing poorly as the church leader. This general lack of confidence may well spill over into your preaching. When I served as principal of MST we relocated the college. This was the most stressful time in my life and I was regularly playing to my weaknesses. I’d lost confidence. Not surprisingly, over those two years I think my preaching reached its lowest ebb.
5. You’re Just Too Busy
Most pastors are busy people and in the hectic round of activities it can be difficult to give the time you need to sermon preparation. So, your sermons end up half-baked. When that becomes the norm not the exception then sermon preparation becomes a burden and you keep putting it off. Worse still, you start cutting corners: just download slabs from old talks; rip off slabs from internet sermons; just write brief first drafts with no time for review, critique and editing.
6. Your Christian Life is Stale
I’m often asked, how do I keep myself fresh as Christian leader? It’s a good question because if our personal relationship with God is stale then our preaching will reflect that. If ‘quiet times’ are a thing of the past or brief and perfunctory then this, too, will eventually impact our preaching.
7. Your Christian Mind is Stale
It can be sobering and discouraging to walk into a pastor’s study and look at his/her library and be able to accurately guess the year they left theological college. Because, apart from the latest books on church growth and dealing with conflict, they’ve hardly bought a commentary or a serious work on theology ever since (I recognise that some today find their intellectual stimulation in podcasts etc). Consequently, their intellectual life has become moribund. Their mind is not challenged or stretched. The sermons, then, can become dull and predictable.
Related to that, is that you’ve stopped challenging yourself in your preaching. You never set yourself the more intellectually daunting task of preaching the more difficult parts of the Bible or preaching a topical series that will require more research.
8. Sin in the Life of the Believer
It would be foolish and remiss of me not to mention sin. It’s hard to keep your preaching fresh if you’re harboring sin in your life. I’m not going to list a catalogue of sins but I’ll mention a few things:
You’ve stopped working on a marriage that has become loveless.
Of course, there are the obvious ones like pornography or alcohol. But there are the more respectable ones like an over-indulgence in a sport or hobby like the much-needed daily adrenalin rush of the bike ride.
9. The Burden of Preparation
Many preachers enjoy the actual task of delivering a sermon but find the preparation a burden and a drudgery. Why? Some say to me, “But I’m not a reader. I struggled through college and I hated writing essays”. Or, “I’m not that creative and it’s hard to come up with good illustrations”. Or, “It takes me sooo long”. Some pastors I’ve coached are spending 30-35 hours every week in preparation. No wonder preparation has become a burden.
10. When the Pastor is the Guest Preacher
This is more a symptom of the problem than a cause. But when you find that you’re taking any opportunity to vacate the pulpit then it’s probably because you’ve lost the joy and wonder of preaching God’s word. It then becomes a vicious circle. An important way to improve as a preacher is to keep on doing it.
Some of these ‘stale makers’ may resonate with you. But don’t be discouraged because, as the Little River Band sang, ‘Hang on, help is on its way’.
Next time, ’10 Stale breakers’.