Somebody has said that we tend to over-estimate what can be achieved by our next sermon, but we under-estimate what can be achieved through the next five years of faithful preaching.
Here are some thoughts on expectation and preaching:
1. If our confidence is in anything other than Jesus, then our expectations are too high. It doesn’t matter how well you have prepared, how well you know the passage, how on target the message feels for people in the congregation, etc. We all have to fight the perennial temptation to trust in something other than Christ for the fruit in our ministry.
2. High expectation tends to lead to disappointment, but maybe it is better to have high expectations anyway. There are nuances to these things, but generally speaking it seems to take a toll to preach with high expectations. Gradually preachers settle into a safer zone of not expecting too much so that they don’t feel too drained by regular disappointment. But if having high expectation comes from, or leads to, more prayer for the people and for the occasion, then maybe it is worth the negative cost involved. Maybe climbing back up again each week and choosing to trust Christ and preach again is worth it.
3. Other factors will influence your internal levels of expectation. You may be drained from interrupted nights, or pastoral crises, or criticsm, or spiritual warfare, etc. And there will be seasons where you struggle to expect much at all. At these times it may be the best you can offer to simply keep going by faith. (Of course, there may also be a need to seek help, be vulnerable, take a sabbatical, adjust your diet, start exercising or whatever might be needed – simply plodding on is not always the faithful next step – ask God and others for wisdom.)
4. Praise God that it is his ministry and not yours. There will be times when you are fired up to launch a revival and instead your sermon falls as flat as a paper plane in torrential rain. God knows what he is doing when he humbles us. There will also be times when we feel like we have nothing to give and are shocked to find out that God uses us mightily in those meager moments. God is God and we are not, let’s be sure to be good with that!
What do you experience when it comes to levels of expectation relating to your preaching ministry?
Lecterns and pulpits are worth thinking about. After all, we so easily take them for granted. Perhaps you’ve always had one, perhaps you’ve always seen preachers preach from behind one. However, if our goal is to effectively communicate God’s Word to people, we need to consider every aspect of our preaching. So here are a few thoughts on these pieces of ecclesial furniture.
Don’t hide. I suppose this is the basic thought in this post. Don’t hide. Remember that communication includes body language, which means that people need to be able to see your body language. Be careful not to slouch or lean on the pulpit. If they can’t see a significant percentage of you, then you probably need to elevate your energy levels to appear normal in your expression. Be deliberate in letting your gestures show above and beyond the pulpit (reach higher and wider). Seriously consider coming out from the castle! Let the pulpit hold your notes, but don’t feel obligated to stay there yourself.
Do familiarize. Make sure everything is ready ahead of time. If it is adjustable, adjust it appropriately (which doesn’t mean it should be up to your armpits just because you’re tall!) Make sure any notes you use will be visible (why are some lecterns at such a high angle?) Make sure you have a glass of water if you need it, etc. If there is anything more technical than a glass of water, make sure you know how it works ahead of time – any light, controls for visual media, etc. Obviously if you’ve preached from the same pulpit for a while, then this isn’t as necessary, but it’s always worth double checking before the meeting.
Don’t criticize. You may understand the negative impact of “barrier furniture” to communication, but be very careful not to criticize it. Even if it holds your notes in a near vertical position, makes your water glass nearly inaccessible, blocks your listeners from hearing “with their eyes” and looks like a wooden battle ship, or upended casket, or whatever . . . keep these thoughts to yourself. You can move to the side, or make the best of the situation from behind there. But if you give voice to these thoughts you will not come across well, and the person whose father built the monstrosity in 1924, or who donated the money to buy it in honor of their spouse’s homegoing . . . well, you know how they’ll feel!