There are always reasons to quit. This is true in anything you might pursue. Sport, music, hobby, fitness, work, ministry, marriage. Anyone who has ever been successful at anything has had to overcome numerous opportunities to quit. How true is that in preaching?
There are few things that can compare with preaching—how important it is, how much people need it, how much you give both in preparation and presentation, how emotionally and physically draining it can be, how open to criticism you become, how relentless the schedule can feel, how exacting the standards are in people's minds for every other area of your life. To give the Lord our best as preachers we must exhibit a tenacious relentlessness.
The temptation to quit may always be lingering in the background, but for various reasons, good and bad, many of us would not simply quit. Perhaps it’s a little like marriage among some Christians a couple of generations back. A marriage could go very sour, but divorce was considered so inappropriate that couples would live out a “Christian divorce”—two separate lives lived under one roof for the sake of appearance. That’s a danger for us as preachers. When the pressures build, as they do regularly, so do the temptations. Temptations to quit may be rejected. But temptations to half-quit are an ever present danger!
When the schedule is tight and you are drained emotionally and physically, pulled in numerous directions, don’t half-quit on your preparation. It may seem tempting to not really study the text, to short-circuit all exegesis.
When Sunday is rapidly approaching and your energy is low, don’t half-quit on sermon shaping. Don’t just go with your study notes, but try to think through your audience and their needs, think through the best way to communicate this passage to them.
When you go through the post-sermon emotional roller coaster that many preachers feel so often, don’t half-quit. Don’t make decisions that will undermine your subsequent ministry because of how you feel at that moment.
When you are on the receiving end of unfair criticism or unjustifiable sniping, don’t half-quit. Don’t steel your heart against the people you minister to so that by not loving them they can’t hurt you. When you love you get hurt, but love anyway.
I’m not saying anything about rest, responsibilities with family, etc. I’m not saying sacrifice yourself to the point of burnout in an attempt to be spiritual. There are all sorts of appropriate balances to wisely employ in ministry. But those are for another post. All I’m suggesting here is that preaching is no easier than most other things you might pursue in life, and in many ways it is harder. To be the best you can be, to give the best you can give, you must be doggedly relentless. Don’t quit. And maybe more importantly, keep leaning on our good God and don’t half-quit.
So how do we overcome the half-quit? I suppose there are several approaches, some better than others:
1. The inner self flesh effort.
Look within, steel yourself, determine to be diligent, be your own drill sergeant, do the right thing! Lots of ways to say it. Typically only one ultimate outcome. It is easy to feel like we are rousing ourselves to great commitment under the hype of a presentation on the need for personal discipline. (Even our listeners might get stirred if we preach that way, but don’t be fooled into thinking it will still be “working” come Thursday!) The problem here is that self-stirring to great devotion in ministry is exactly what we’re talking about—what do we do when we come to times when that is absent. It makes no sense to rely on the very mechanism whose absence is the problem.
2. The outer appearance self-elevating effort.
Here’s a real danger. What will people think? We can be stirred to press on due to keeping up appearances. In one sense there is value here. We don’t want to cause others to stumble. We don’t want to crash and burn, because we love those who would be caught in our wake. But there is a real danger here. Doing the right thing in ministry in order to look good creates an ever-increasing divide between reality and appearance. Eventually this show becomes as paper thin as the performance of a stand-up comedian who performs outwardly, but is utterly broken within.
3. The energy from genuine relationship.
There is little in life that is as motivating as good genuine fellowship with others captured by Christ. Looking to Christ together with others who are not performing somehow will stimulate motivation to press on like very little else. We need to be genuinely conversing with our Lord in every circumstance. He is the One whom we press on to know more, who puts the fire in our bones like the prophets of old, who is the real treasure at work within these breaking vessels!
Any solution to the half-quit that is about looking to myself, or about how I look to others, will be self-defeating and only make matters worse. We need to be responding to the life giver Himself, for fellowship with Him is life itself. Maybe the temptation to half-quit is a warning that the conversation has gone quiet, that your heart has grown distant and distracted. Let the warning nudge you back toward Him.