You are in the car driving home. The smile on your face as you interacted with people following the service hid the preoccupation of your thoughts. There was pain in your heart even while there was a smile on your face. You just laid an egg. At least you feel that you just laid an egg in preaching. How do you process that? After 33 years of preaching, let me give you a few things that I’m learning and still striving to practice. These are in no particular order of priority, nor is this intended to be exhaustive, just some things that have helped me.
- Remember that you aren’t the final judge of your sermons (1 Cor 4:3-4)
Of course we should always evaluate our preaching, and prayerfully strive to improve our preaching, but we aren’t qualified to be the final judge of our preaching. Christ is the judge of our preaching, and that is both a comforting and sobering truth (1 Peter 5:1-4; James 3:1). Our Master is gracious and holy.
2. Remember that you never see the full effect of your sermons (Eph 3:20)
One of the great ways that I’ve come to realize this is through the trustworthy feedback I get from my wife and children. We strive to love each other with honest feedback. More than once I have heard that the sermon that I thought soared didn’t hit the mark for them; or the sermon I thought sank was actually very edifying for them. After acknowledging that no one else is qualified to be the final judge for your sermons either, those experiences still remind us that God is at work in ways that we cannot fully perceive. The Holy Spirit doesn’t owe us the sense of Him making use of us, even as He graciously chooses to make use of us.
3. Remember that you are simply a servant through preaching (1 Cor 4:1)
Our task is to faithfully proclaim the truths of Scripture. Our task is to be faithful to the biblical text by delivering the message that the Holy Spirit intended when the biblical authors penned those texts. Yes, we strive to do it skillfully and in a way that is interesting as well as faithful, but at the end of the day, if we have accurately conveyed the message of Scripture we have done our job. To say it more simply, we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. Read the text, explain the text, and apply the text.
4. Remember that you are pointing people away from yourself (2 Cor 4:5)
Hand-in-hand with the previous thought, I take comfort in the idea that if the truths of Scripture are remembered, if God is glorified, if Christ is magnified, and if lives are edified, it doesn’t matter a bit if people are impressed with me. In fact, God may well be at work killing my desire for praise, humbling my heart, and purifying my motives, through my feeling of failure. We should be joyful when people remember truths they learned from a sermon we preached, but can’t remember that we were the one who preached it.
5. Remember that the sweetest title you have received is child of God (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1)
Every discouraging moment in life, including those in ministry, are great opportunities to remember God’s grace to us in Christ. Every failure, real or perceived, is a great opportunity to be reminded of our need for God’s mercy at every turn, in every circumstance, and for all eternity. Even our very best works are worthless garbage if not for God’s grace to us in His Son. When discouragement comes, celebrate salvation. Never let your role as a preacher be what most defines you. Eternity for the Christian preacher will be the celebration of adoption and sonship.
6. Remember that pastoral preaching is a long-term labor (1 Cor 3:6-8)
It is true that every sermon could be the last sermon that we preach. It is also true that we should always “preach as a dying man to dying men” (Baxter). But it is also true that preaching as pastors means that we are doing a whole lot of sowing and watering. To use a sports analogy, you don’t win a football game on the first play of the game. “Winning,” in this case, is the goal of a healthy and mature congregation that loves Christ and isn’t tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:11-16). That doesn’t happen overnight, and that doesn’t happen through one sermon. Just keep praying, studying, and preaching. If you feel you had a rough sermon, or are in a rough season, keep striving with the strength that God supplies.
7. Remember to be thankful (1 Thess 5:16-18)
Never forget how blessed you are. Even on your worst morning or evening of preaching, you were granted the opportunity to proclaim the glories of your God! In addition, when your efforts are done, you abide with a life that has been graciously enriched in ways that you can’t fully fathom. Don’t allow post-sermon discouragement to rob you of the joy of your wife, or your children, or the hours of joyful opportunity that follow the sermon. Never forget that you rest in the love of God, and God has graciously made you at peace with Himself through Jesus Christ (Rom 5:1). What infinite riches you have been given! If the Lord should will, and tomorrow you are still on this side of glory, go back to work. You have the privilege to proclaim the treasure that is Scripture. Be thankful.