Welcome to The On Preaching Podcast, the podcast dedicated to helping you preach faithfully, clearly, and better.
It has been said that you preach to broken hearts, as there is one in every pew. But what should the preacher do when the broken heart is in the pulpit?
There are times when the preacher goes to the pulpit with great joy. He cannot wait to stand to preach. He can barely stand as he preaches. He feels he will float away as the Holy Spirit holds him up in the pulpit.
Those good times in pulpit ministry won’t last forever. There will be times when the preacher must drag himself to the pulpit with a troubled mind, a weary spirit, and a broken heart. If you remain in ministry long enough, you will have to preach your way through personal, family, and even church hurts.
How do you preach when you are hurting?
Be honest with yourself. A diagnosis can be a fearful thing. Many people who feel sick avoid doctors. They don’t want to hear they are officially ill. Of course, refusing to face facts does not make them go away. It may make things worse. Although a diagnosis can be fearful, it can also be freeing. It puts a name to the pain and begins a path for recovery. The same thing applies to one who preaches hurt. Be honest with yourself. There is nothing spiritual about pretending that life doesn’t hurt when life hurts. Denial is not good for you or anyone else. Though a humbling act, tell the truth to yourself if you are preaching hurt.
Pray without ceasing. Preaching and praying go together. That’s true of public proclamation and private preparation. Pray through every phase of the sermon preparation process. As you pray about the sermon, pray for yourself. The heart is the primary instrument of Christian ministry. If your heart is not right, the Lord cannot use you – no matter your biblical knowledge, sermon preparation, or communication skills. We guard our hearts through believing prayer. As you preach hurt, pray sincerely, earnestly, persistently, and confidently. God is willing to hear and able to answer prayer. Cast all your cares upon the Lord who cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Talk to someone you trust. The New Testament recounts the ministry exploits of the Apostle Paul. It also records that Paul did not do ministry alone. The two – gospel productivity and gospel partnership – go together. If you are going to hang in there, much less thrive in ministry, you need friends in the faith – especially when you preach hurt. If you are hurting, talk to God in prayer. Likewise, talk to someone you can trust. Talk to someone who will be a good ear to hear you out. Ask a prayer partner to share the load with you before God. Find a friend that will speak the truth in love to you. Make sure it is someone you can trust.
Preach consecutive messages. I offer two pieces of advice to those who preach weekly: Think texts, not topics. Think series, not sermons. I think this is good advice for feeding your people. It is even better advice if you are preaching hurt. You receive a troubling email. You have a difficult meeting. You receive a hurtful comment. If you’re not careful, these painful experiences will “lead” you to Sunday’s text and topic. You didn’t get to address it when it happened. But you plan to get your lick in the pulpit under the guise of telling the truth. Avoid this temptation by preaching biblical texts in sermon series. Don’t let your hurts pick Sunday’s sermon.
Preach the gospel to yourself. The gospel saves, sanctifies, and strengthens us. It also sustains us when we are weak and weary. As you preach the gospel to sinners and teach the gospel to saints, preach the gospel to yourself. The gospel is not just the message we proclaim. It is an anchor of the soul. The good news is not just good news about heaven. The good news is good news for all of life. Meditating on the truth of the gospel will affirm your identity in Christ, build up your faith in Christ, and shape your perspective to focus on Christ in life and ministry. Soothe your hurts by saturating your heart and mind in the truth of the gospel as you preach hurt.
Don’t use the pulpit to vent. Biblical preaching is spiritual warfare. As you sow gospel seed, the evil one lurks to snatch away the seed before it takes root (Matthew 13:4, 19). The pulpit is a battleground for battle, not a platform for performing. In preaching, we fight the evil one, the world’s false value system, and our flesh’s sinful temptations. At times, we fight off wolves among the flock. But when you use the pulpit to snipe at your enemies, the sheep become collateral damage. Don’t use the pulpit to vent your frustrations against your opponents. Don’t vomit negativity on your congregation. Don’t use cannonballs to shoot at flies.
Take a break from preaching. A player comes to the bench writhing in pain. “Are you injured?” the coach asks, “Or are you hurt?” That sounds like a strange question to the non-athlete. But the player knows what his coach is asking. If the player is injured, he cannot play. If he is only hurt, he needs to suck it up and get back in the game. Are you hurt or injured? If you’re injured, take a break from preaching. Go on vacation. Ask for a sabbatical. Or consider if you can or should continue in ministry. Do whatever it takes to guard your heart, protect your integrity, and keep yourself in the love of God. If you are only hurt, dust yourself off and get back in the game!
Biblical preaching is spiritual warfare. The pulpit is a battleground for battle, not a platform for performing. – H.B. Charles Jr.