Sometimes we can’t wait to get the Bible open and preach. Other times it is a battle to get to the preaching moment. But one of the most dangerous times is when it just feels flat.
I didn’t preach last Sunday, and I am not preaching this Sunday. So perhaps it is a safe time to write about this danger. On the dashboard of our ministry life, we need to have a light that flashes when we are preaching flat. What causes it? What should we do?
Here are some possible causes:
1. Physical Fatigue. Driven personalities, parents of young children, stressed church leaders ... all are in danger of not sleeping enough.
2. Physical Lethargy. Bad diet, lack of exercise, high stress levels ... it is easy to be running on empty, but it is not a good idea.
3. Emotional Drain. Perhaps there are issues in the family, or tensions within the church, and be especially wary when you have been on the receiving end of criticism or character assassination ... a drained emotional tank can lead to preaching flat or preaching angry—both are dangerous.
4. Relational Strain. If you have a broken relationship with a fellow church leader, a prominent church member, an individual in your family, etc., then you may well find your motivation for preaching seeps away. It is like having a crack in your fuel tank—only addressing the crack will enable you to function properly. (Remember Romans 12:18, though: You can only do what you can. Sometimes people simply refuse to reconcile.)
5. Spiritual Dryness. Lack of real communication in prayer, Bible reading has become data-gathering instead of encounter, a lively relationship has drifted into mere disciplines, unconfessed sin has become normal and dulled your spirit; there are many reasons for spiritual dryness. The problem is that it tends to hide the flashing light on your dashboard. Your flesh doesn’t want to own a spiritual drift, but your ministry requires that you do.
6. Other. There may always be another reason ... spiritual attack, medical issue, etc.
So what should you do about it? Be honest with yourself and recognize when you are preaching flat. Pray about it honestly. Ask some trusted friends for anything they sense may be an issue in your life. And don’t settle for flat as your new normal. The Gospel, your God and the people in your church need a preacher whose inner fire is being stoked by being with God. The flat version just won’t do.
Let’s come at this from a different angle. Does you sermon preparation cause you to:
1. Pray. I don’t mean the diligent prayer that should be part of every ministry preparation. Apart from Him we can do nothing. If we are tempted to preach in a prayerless state, there should be warning lights flashing all over our spiritual dashboard. Does your sermon preparation so stir you that you have to stop and pray?
All our prayer is technically a response to God’s glorious loving initiative, but I am referring to a soul-stirred immediacy of response. The wonder of the revelation of God’s character in the text; the relevance of the passage to your own heartfelt fears, doubts, concerns or hopes; the privilege of participation in the ministry that overflows from the dynamic unity of the Trinity ... how often does this stir you to stop and pray?
2. Worship. How easily we can get into the “professional” position of minister seeking to stir worship in the listeners. But we are not in a separate category. The only thing that separates us from our listeners is the extended exposure to the same biblical text. So if we anticipate their response of worship, surely we should take the absence of our response to be concerning. It is a glorious privilege to stop mid-preparation and pour out your praise to God. Pause the prep, not for an incoming email, but to put on the song stirred in your heart and sing it out to God. I think He likes that kind of worship service! With this response comes ...
3. Dream. The realities of weekly or regular ministry can wear us all down. The lack of response. The sense that eternity-changing pearls from God’s Word have been trampled as fodder for a consumeristic evaluation of the church and pastor’s “performance”—this hurts. But God is able to lift our hearts and invite us to dream of what could be and should be in the lives of those exposed to God’s Word this coming Sunday.
4. Give Thanks. How often do we pray for relief from the stresses and frustrations that come in a preaching ministry, but fail to thank God for the immense privilege of participating in His great work of building the church? Time with God? Give thanks. Joining Jesus in His ministry? Give thanks. Receiving God’s gracious work in your own heart? Give thanks.
5. Weep. I suspect that the most powerful preaching on a Sunday comes out of the study where exegetical notes and the open Bible have been anointed with tears. I don’t weep enough.
And if, like me, this post doesn’t resonate with the reality week by week anywhere near as much as it should, what to do? Back to #1. Pray.