If you’re like me, and many preachers that I have spoken with seem to be, it is common to experience a kind of post partum frustration after the birthing of a sermon on Sunday morning. By Sunday afternoon, we find ourselves second guessing what we have said or the way we said it, and by Sunday evening we begin to wonder whether, in fact, we might not have been better off like St. Francis, delivering our pearls of wisdom to a convocation of the neighborhood pets.
What began as a spiritually-charged encounter with God in the throes of sermon preparation and sent us blazing into the pulpit with fire in our bones, feels somehow like a deflated dirigible after 15 minutes of small talk, quick handshakes, fleeting glances, and completely off the wall remarks at the church door.
And its not that we haven’t polished the sermon! My goodness. We’ve applied every possible homiletical “best practice,” to our sermonic gem, we’ve practiced until we were about to lose our voice, we’ve used gestures large and small, brilliant changes of vocal intonation, and sparkling nuances here and there. We gave it everything we had. That’s not the issue. We did our best.
And yet, still there’s this nagging frustration. So much talk, and yet we haven’t a clue what it’s all about or what it’s doing. So many incredible, powerful, potentially life-changing words, and yet they seem to us to simply fall to the ground somewhere between the pulpit and the first row of pews.
Over the years, I’ve accommodated myself to this sense of frustration. I think it is natural and normal. The more I think about it, the more I believe that it arises from the reality that every preacher is attempting to do something that is impossible. What we propose to do, to convey a “word from the Lord” is simply a task we’re not equal to. Clay pots, one and all. And so, it is perfectly natural to feel frustrated, even to the point of believing that we are utter and abject failures.
In the last analysis, this frustration is actually a symptom of honesty. And that is a good thing, not a bad thing to experience. We have to be honest with ourselves. Preaching is, ultimately, completely beyond us. We talk and talk and talk, and yet, the things that we point to with our words can only, ultimately, be verified and “proved” by real, lived experience – ours and those who hear us preach.
So, I encourage us not to let the frustration of preaching wear us down. Its an honest emotion. And a theologically sound emotion. We just have to live with it and plough on through.