It's Saturday night, which means you're slumped over your sermon notes when it finally sets in.
No, you're not hiding any sin or walking through suffering. You're not spiritually dry or nearing burnout.
You simply can't remember the last time you had a Sunday off from preaching. As a result, you feel like you're saying the same thing the same way week after week.
Your illustrations are tired. Your jokes are dry. Your applications are about as helpful as a swimsuit in a snowstorm.
Your preaching has gone stale.
But you know what? It happens. It happens to every faithful herald who fills a pulpit week in and week out.
Each Sunday, as I drive home from church, I experience the collision of two emotions simultaneously:
The satisfaction that I’ve preached another sermon and the stress of having to do it all over again the next week.
All preachers know what it feels like to wake up Monday morning and want to do anything other than prepare another sermon, especially when you feel like you're in a rut you can't climb out of.
Pastor James MacDonald captures the tension of preaching weekly so well:
Biblical preaching demands effort, drains energy and distracts attention away from other things that matter, too, but demand less. Real preaching requires any offense to be resolved, sin to be surrendered and distraction to be diminished. It’s easy to do poorly and terrifically difficult to do well, once. The better you preach, the greater the demand that you do it great again next week, because "we are bringing our friends." No matter how good the meal, take a deep breath, because they will be just as hungry in less than seven days, and you need to know you "have it" well before then. Good preaching is a love-hate relationship: I love preaching, I hate preparing; I love seeing God work, I hate the pressure of needing to see it again; I love the Lord and His Word, I hate the battle He allows to accompany its proclamation. (Vertical Church, p.199)
Periodically, every pastor to whom God gives the privilege of preaching weekly will find themselves in a rut.
It’s not a matter of if this will happen, but what will we do when it does? How do we crawl out of the rut? How do we breathe new life into our dry hearts? How can we refresh our preaching when it feels stale?
Here are seven suggestions in no particular order …
1. Take some time off.
Maybe you just need a week off from prepping a sermon. You need a break to refresh your heart and mind. I know it’s not always easy, but figure it out. Train up another preacher, call a friend, do whatever you need to in order to get some time off.
2. Choose one of your preaching tools to develop.
Exegesis, humor, illustration, application—these are tools we use to construct sermons and convey God’s Word. One way to refresh your preaching is to choose one of these tools to intentionally develop. Think about it, focus on it and seek to improve your use of that tool each week.
3. Listen to preachers outside of your style and stream.
We are blessed to live in a period of time when we have access to a wealth of amazing preaching. Pick a preacher who may be outside your style or theological stream and study what they do well.
4. Prep with a team.
You don’t need a staff for this. Gather a few people from your church, get your Bibles out and talk about what you see going on in the text. When done well, it takes a huge load off of you. You’ll come up with outlines, illustrations and applications you would never think of alone.
5. Read the biographies of great preachers.
Spurgeon, Wesley, Whitfield—get familiar with the preachers whose shoulders we stand on. Relate to their struggles and be humbled by the successes God gave them. Reading the stories of these men God has used in powerful ways inspires me to work harder and want more from God’s Word.
6. Take a retreat for prayer and meditation.
One of the most refreshing things for me personally is a day alone with my Bible and room to walk. I pick a book of the Bible and read slowly, stopping often to meditate, pray and reflect. Find a spot, clear your calendar, turn off your phone and get with God.
7. Get a coach.
Having a strong preacher listen to and speak into your sermons is a surefire way to get better. They can encourage you, push you and stretch you to step out of what may be stale and into something fresh.
If God has chosen to allow you to preach in any fashion, in any context, you are blessed. Preaching is a high calling and a huge privilege. It’s difficult and draining, but don’t give up and don’t get discouraged. Rest in God’s grace and trust Him to refresh your preaching.
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