Preachers are just regular people. We’re not uber-Christians who never struggle with sin or weakness. I’ve been preaching now for 19 years and I’ve experienced my share of ups and downs directly related to my calling on the pulpit. A lot of my downs have had to do with doubts. Let me share what some of those are and how I’ve been led through them so I can carry on. I’ll divide them into two categories.
Doubts Before the Sermon
Sometimes as I’m preparing my sermons, I’ll be struck with doubts about the message I’m proclaiming. It’s not that I doubt the truth of it; it’s that I doubt the congregation needs to have it repeated. I repeat myself so often. Yes, I try to frame the old gospel message in fresh and creative ways, but I’m always wondering: will Sunday be the day someone comes up to me and says, “Can you preach something new for once? Really, it’s always the same old. You never give us anything new.”
When I hear these thoughts I need to go to 2 Peter 1:12-15,
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
I know this passage and I have known it since seminary — one of my fellow students gave a memorable chapel message on it. But, ironically, I forget. I forget that, in God’s Word itself, the necessity of repetition is laid upon us. Even for those who know the truth, there is no harm but only benefit from hearing it again and again.
I also need to remember the parishioners who’ve told me about understanding something about the gospel only after I’ve told them ten times or more. There’s the psychology of listening. Some people hear something and grasp it instantly. Others hear it and it doesn’t register until the fifth time, or maybe even the tenth time. Moreover, there might be children or teens in the congregation who are truly listening to a sermon for the first time — the previous times they may have been present, but weren’t really listening. What about visitors who might be there for the first time? Or new members who weren’t there the last nine times you said it? So, away with you doubts! I must keep repeating myself.
Doubts After the Sermon
These are the worst. Sunday evenings after being all preached out I’m often a mess on the inside. You’ve poured your heart and soul into preparing and preaching and then: “Was it all worth it?” “Does it change anything?” I wonder about the power and efficacy of preaching.
I have two passages that I call my Sunday evening lifelines. With these words from the Holy Spirit, I get bailed out and I can sleep easy. The first passage is from 1 Corinthians 15:58,
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.
While that was originally addressed to the Corinthian congregation, it can certainly be taken to heart by preachers too. Our labour in the Lord is never in vain — it’s never pointless, it’s always worth the effort.
My second Sunday evening lifeline is found in the well-known passage of Isaiah 55:10-11. God says,
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, and make it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent.
If I’m preaching God’s Word, it is always going to do something. God always has a purpose behind it, even if it’s not always immediately obvious to me. My Father promises this and I need to take him at his word.
Moreover, once I get beyond the tunnel vision of Sunday evening, I can see that God’s Word is doing things. Hearts and lives are being changed. There is growth in understanding the goodness of the good news in Christ, and therefore also growth in love, joy, and worship.
I’m quite sure I’m not alone in struggling with these kinds of doubts. In speaking with other pastors, I’ve heard of how Sunday evenings can be the worst time of the week. If you’re one of those pastors, I hope you’ll find encouragement from the lifelines I’ve mentioned, and maybe others. If you’re a parishioner, may I encourage you too? Provide that feedback to your pastor. Reassure him and let him know concretely how his labours in the Lord are not in vain. Let him know that his repeating essential truths has borne fruit. And maybe, just maybe, those moments of doubt will grow weaker and fewer.