Are you communicating this weekend?
Maybe preaching at your church? Speaking in a student ministry? Or even training or casting vision to volunteers?
I am, and it got me to thinking…
No matter the environment, the audience, or the type of message, communicating in any spiritual context brings a unique pressure. It’s a pressure that only communicators in the church can fully understand.
When I worked in the marketplace, I communicated quite a bit. I made sales calls, staged product demonstrations, presented data and strategy analysis, and even occasionally spoke to larger audiences about our business, our competencies, and our industry.
None of these moments compare to what happens in ministry, though. There is such a unique weight in any ministry communication. The pressure comes from many places:
Let’s just start where everything in us as pastors and teachers should start. It doesn’t take more than a cursory reading of James (among other Biblical books) to feel the weight of our position.
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” – James 3:1
And we should feel the weight. If we don’t, we apparently aren’t taking our position as seriously as God does. When we stand in front of people to encourage, admonish, or anything in between, we represent more than just our opinion. That’s pressure.
The people who will hear our words can be quite critical. Not all, but many, are walking into our churches expecting to hear something true, helpful, and biblical, presented in a way that is engaging, inspiring, relational, conversational, and even humorous. I’m not sure that is even possible, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s somewhat expected. That’s pressure.
If we are honest, we might create the biggest pressure-cooker. I certainly don’t know everything there is to know about preaching. What I do know is how much pressure we can feel stepping onto the stage or behind the pulpit. We all work hard on preparation, content, and delivery (if you don’t, you should!). We all have been given quite the opportunity to present hope in and through a relationship with Jesus. That’s pressure.
Bottom line: There’s a lot riding on our shoulders this weekend. Or at least it feels that way. But should it?
How should we handle the pressure? How should we navigate the challenge? How should we move into these speaking moments with confidence and clarity?
1. Let God be God.
This is probably the only tip we need to remember (but I’ll give more just for fun). God is not expecting us to give “Sermon on the Mount” quality messages every weekend. We might at times, but that’s not His expectation. From what I can gather, God is asking us to be faithful to the truth, sensitive to who is listening, and genuine in our presentation.
The best part is what God does between our mouth and our audience’s ears. It seems every time I preach someone eventually approaches me to comment on what they received from my message. At times, what they heard was exactly what I said. Many times what they heard was close — still true and still helpful for them — but not exact. And at times, though, God takes what is said, completely rewrites it, and allows it to enter the listening ear as it needs to be heard. It’s a beautiful thing that only God can do. And we, as preachers, get to participate in these little miracles all the time.
2. Prepare with Intentionality.
When we understand the weight and opportunity given to us, it should cause us to prepare with great intentionality. I have never been disappointed because I prepared in advance. And I’ve certainly never heard any pastor or teacher say a message would have been better had they procrastinated and opted for a “Saturday night special.” We always prepare for what’s important, so get ahead in your preparation to remove much of the pressure.
3. Be Happy with Singles.
Every message won’t be a grand slam. Some will, and when that happens, it’s a great feeling. But there will be some messages that are just average. I call those “get on base Sundays.” I prepare to hit a homer every time I preach, but there are some messages that just don’t come together as well as I would like. There are times when the delivery isn’t as good. There are times when a baby just won’t stop crying even though we have an incredible ministry experience for babies during the service. That’s part of the job. Singles aren’t strikeouts. And God can still do His thing with our singles.
4. Don’t Accept Average.
While we might not preach the best message in the history of preaching each weekend, we must fight the temptation to underwork and accept mediocrity. There are so many ways to improve as a preacher — from planning to preparation to interpretation to delivery. I don’t fully understand what God chooses to bless, but He seems to bless passion and hard work over apathy. So work hard and give it your best effort so you can trust God fully with the rest.
5. Give Yourself Grace.
God already has given you grace, so you might as well give yourself some, too. Unfortunately, there will be times when all the preparation, effort, and rehearsing sill doesn’t get us where we’re trying to get. Yeah, we’ll hit singles from time to time, and we will also strikeout. If we have done our best, that is ultimately all we can do. So don’t just preach grace, give yourself grace.
6. Find a Healthy Pace.
I hate to break it to you, but God didn’t birth you for 52 amazing messages a year. That’s just my humble opinion, but I believe it to be true. I work for arguably the best communicator in the world, Andy Stanley. No matter what you believe about his approach or his theology, there’s no arguing his message-building technique and delivery is beyond superb. I get to watch it up close and personal, and I’m still often amazed. But do you know how many times Andy preaches each year? About 35, give or take. If Andy doesn’t attempt 52, we probably shouldn’t either.
I hope my message this Sunday is great. I’m sure to be practicing it many times on Friday and Saturday. Soon enough, Sunday will be here and I think I’ll be ready. But, if it’s not the best message I’ve ever delivered, I’ll be fine. If every single person doesn’t love it, I’ll understand. And if, after three tries, I just can’t seem to get it right, I’ll survive. And you will, too, I bet.
Good luck if you’re on deck this Sunday. I might not know your name, but I’m praying you have fun bringing your best to the people in your room.