Let me begin with an understatement: Preaching is hard. We love it, we’re called to it, but every time we stand in the pulpit, we expose a little bit of our soul and stick our neck out.
Preaching is hard.
One of the many reasons preaching is challenging is the different kinds of ears receiving the message. I’ve always found it amazing how the same message can affect individuals in the same congregation entirely differently.
After a recent message, I received several pats on the back from members of the congregation who told me things like, “Man, I really needed that,” “I love how you make the text come alive” and “That was a real punch in the gut that I needed.“
Then later, I received a text message outlining how I had disappointed someone with my “non-inspiring” message.
It was a reminder of a principle that Jesus taught (though not about preaching) that if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.
You see, preachers can’t do what they do for the applause, or they will quit doing what they do because of the criticism. You’re always going to get both.
We need never forget that both good and bad comments come from good and bad places. Sometimes when you hear something positive and affirming, it’s because the message really served the purpose and they applied it well, but sometimes they’re just positive because they love you.
And, sometimes, someone is negative concerning the message because there was something in that message that probably should’ve been left out or handled differently. But, sometimes, they’re negative just because they’re negative. Or maybe one line in the message soured them to everything else. You know how humans can be. You are one, right?
Either way, I’ve learned in 30 years of preaching that no matter what comes your way, don’t get inflated by the compliments or deflated by the criticisms. Instead, make it a meal of campfire trout: Eat the fish and spit out the bones.
There’s always something to learn, even if the comment is overly gracious or absent of grace. Please take the opportunity and hear what needs to be heard, learn from it and then leave it behind!
Let me give you our lives in a microcosm. In July 2022, because of multiple camps, all church staff gatherings and special events, I will deliver 44 different messages. Here are some factual statements:
- Forty-four messages delivered in 30 days will not all be “home runs.”
- You are human and won’t get everything right every time.
- God can still work amazingly and do miraculous things even through a “mediocre performance.”
- You weren’t called to be awesome; that’s His job.
- Faithful obedience and hard work, that’s your job … the outcome, that’s not.
So, if you’ve ever pondered a message – before delivery or after – and thought, “I wonder what so-and-so thought about that,“ or “Man, I wish I did better with that,“ let’s put some things in perspective by listening to what the apostle Paul encouraged a young preacher to focus on.
“Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:2)
Preach the truth: To reprove someone in a message is to point out clearly where the line is, even if it’s been stepped over. There is a black, there is a white; there’s an up, there’s a down; and there’s a wrong, and there’s a right. Good preaching will clarify that in a blurry world. Sometimes people will applaud it; sometimes, they won’t. That doesn’t matter. Reprove yourself and others as you preach the truth.
Preach restoratively: The word ‘rebuke’ is more than just calling someone out. It means “to command.” So we need more than one of those “you fish-eyed, fool heathen, turn or burn” messages. We need real direction, helpful criticism and authoritative instruction. Once the preacher clarifies the problem, the preacher should have a clear response. Preach restoratively.
Preach alongside: To ‘exhort’ is a compound word in the original language, pronounced parakaleo. The first half is from the same place we get ‘parallel,’ like railroad tracks. The second half means “to speak or to talk.” Exhorting someone is to come alongside them and speak with them. Good preaching isn’t yelling at someone; it’s coming alongside them and saying what needs to be said. Some of the most powerful messages I believe I’ve ever delivered made Jesus the hero while showing my weakness in identifying myself with those in the congregation. Preach alongside.
There’s no doubt that preaching is hard, but we make it even harder when we listen to the voices of our congregation as a source of our mental well-being or feeling valued.
You were called to this task because you already were valued by the One that matters. You deliver the Word not for the applause that it might invoke. You stand in the pulpit because it’s a place God has given you to steer the ship in the tumultuous waters of a broken world and chaotic culture.
Be ready in season and out, my friend, and listen to the One voice that truly matters. Preach, not because you love it, not because it’s necessary, not because they need it, but because it’s a privilege to which God has called!
This post originally appeared at The Rural Pastor.
Published August 30, 2022