My world was a bit rocked today when I read this article over on Challies' site. Tim Challies' blog is the only blog that I read on a daily basis, 6 days a week (he takes Sundays off). My world was rocked because it was almost like Tim climbed into my head and took my thoughts and experiences out of it and posted them on his blog. That's how accurate I think his article is, or at least how similar it is to my own experience. It's especially poignant for me considering I just preached a rare sermon yesterday (I probably preach 6-12 times each year).
Preaching is an incredible thing, and is one that most people who don't preach don't think about too much (after all, why would they?). It's especially interesting when you consider that a lot of people who preach (including myself) aren't necessarily gifted communicators, charismatic personalities, extroverts, or people who are naturally comfortable speaking in front of people. That being said, Tim makes the following points about preaching:
Also, preaching can be very difficult, and so it can be discouraging. Think about it: have you ever tried to make a 30 minute presentation based on maybe 3 or 4 sentences? It ain't easy. I can recall times that I've read a text and thought that preaching through it would be a breeze. As the week goes on, however, it proves to not be as easy as previously thought. This is not a fun place to be.
Challies also says that the preacher's week culminates in the sermon. This is absolutely true in my experience. After I preach a sermon it literally feels as though a gigantic weight has been taken off my shoulders. I've been spending the whole week on this thing, and now the time for it has finally come and gone. Most of my waking moments in weeks that I am to preach are spent thinking about the sermon. To have that weight lifted is incredible. I usually feel like throwing a party.
Preaching is also physically draining. You wouldn't think it is, since it's just basically standing and talking, but it really is. It's a culmination of all the things listed above, in addition to the standing and talking that make it so exhausting.
2. Preachers are fragile. This is also true, in my experience. Imagine spending hours and hours in a week on something that is very important to you. At the end of the week you share what you've put so much time and effort into with 200 people. Most of them don't say anything to you about what you've shared, either positive or negative. It's kind of like a collective "Meh." Some people tell you that they didn't like it at all, and disagree with you quite heartily. How would you feel? But those people that compliment and offer encouragement lift your spirits. It's a fragile thing. I like the quote Challies has in his post: "To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know that each time you do it, that you must do it again."
The only thing I don't quite go along with from Tim's post is that it is encouraging to preachers when they hear "Amen's" from the congregation. I don't like to hear an "Amen" when I preach, for a couple of reasons. Number one, it briefly distracts me from what I am saying; number two, it has the potential to inflate my ego or pride as I preach, as though I am the one actually making an impact and not God; and number three, I sometimes feel like people are too quick to agree with what is being said when perhaps instead of agreeing they should examine themselves to see if there is any conviction in their own heart. This is not to say that an occasional "Amen" is bad or detrimental, or that I look down on "Amen-ers" in the congregation. There just may be some better kinds of encouragement to give than an "Amen" from the pews.
3. Success in preaching is difficult to measure. This is definitely difficult. The preacher has no way of knowing if anything he's saying or doing is having any kind of effect on his audience. There is no rubric of determining the success of preaching. Only relationships over long periods of time, I suppose, could be used as somewhat of a gauge as to the success of preaching. But as far as this week's sermon? Who knows. You may not see any implications from that sermon for ten years!
4. Preaching is a joy. For all the complaining this post seems to be doing, it needs to be said that preaching is indeed an amazing thing to be a part of. It's definitely different than anything I've ever done before in my life, or anything I do currently. And it's certainly not something I saw myself doing at earlier points in my life. But here I am. And I am blessed and honored (and a little scared) to be trusted with the responsibility of publicly expositing and declaring the word of God for the edification of his church. But, as Challies says, "Preaching is a high calling. Every preacher needs to regularly remind himself of the honor of being set aside to this ministry, of even being paid to study God's word. Is there any greater honor a church can give, then to tell a man that they will pay him to study the Bible, as long as he promises to share what he is learning once a week? That is an amazing thing."