The life of a pastor is often filled with struggles.
No, I’m not talking about an intense deacon’s meeting or an arm-wrestling match in the youth group. A struggle transpires in the pastor’s study.
Preparing to preach is a call to war. A pastor preparing to preach God’s Word will face an intense battle. However, not all battles pastors face should be viewed negatively.
Sermon preparation is a glorious struggle. Pastors who do not struggle to prepare the sermon miss bypass numerous blessings and growth opportunities.
By understanding and responding to the various struggles in sermon preparation, pastors can become more effective in their preaching and better equipped to lead their congregations. Let’s dig into the four struggles pastors need to face each week.
First, pastors battle with themselves. While devotion to sermon preparation is admirable, sermon preparation does not replace personal devotion to God. Pastors face numerous demands in ministry, and there is a daily temptation to neglect personal quiet time for sermon preparation and ministry demands. However, the strength for ministry must come from the pastor's overabundance of worship.
In his book Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery, Greg Heisler wrote, “You will never deliver in power what does not first reside in you with power. Praying, agonizing, repenting, thinking, changing, growing, worshipping, transforming, submitting, delighting, consecrating— all of these internal struggles in the study are what makes for powerful preaching in the pulpit, and you cannot borrow them from somebody else.”
Next, pastors battle with Scripture. Each Sunday afternoon, I print a copy of the biblical text that I’m planning to study for the week. Before I examine commentaries, articles, or original languages, Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings are set aside for passage observations and praying for God’s leadership in sermon preparation.
Prayerfully examining the passage, I connect words and phrases (using colored pencils) and jot down personal observations that I’ve gleaned from the text. I also ask questions like,
Thirdly, pastors battle with others - After a prayerful examination of the passage on Sunday and a rough outline on Monday, Tuesday mornings are designed to battle with other wise pastors, authors, and theologians. Of course, this is not a physical struggle with much wiser and more gifted people than I am. However, this is a battle of thought, ideas, and insight into the text. Commentaries, books, and articles should not be avoided during sermon preparation but should be humbly and carefully pursued.
H.B. Charles, Jr. wrote a helpful book titled On Preaching: Personal and Pastoral Insights for the Preparation and Practice of Preaching. Regarding commentaries, he wrote, “There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors. So, take advantage of the wisdom of diligent Bible commentators. Don’t treat commentators as if they are divinely inspired, but be humble enough to learn from the wisdom of others. Read exegetical commentaries for insights into the text. Read homiletical commentaries with a view toward shaping the text for the pulpit. Read devotional commentaries to get at the heart of the text for application. Read the commentaries to sharpen your thinking, not to do the thinking for you.”
As you consider commentaries, wrestle with the authors with questions like,
After examining commentaries, Wednesday and Thursday mornings are used for sermon writing. I write a full manuscript for preaching, while other pastors utilize a sermon outline. I aim to finalize the sermon manuscript by Thursday morning and use Friday as a rest day. However, it’s during the struggle with self, Scripture, and others that the pastor faces another struggle.
Finally, pastors battle with the enemy - Pastor, you have an enemy that does not want you to preach God’s Word! Ephesians 6:12 says (English Standard Version), “For we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Your enemy will attack you with self-doubting thoughts like,
Eddie Byun wrote a book encouraging church members to pray for their pastor. The book is titled, “Praying for Your Pastor: How Your Prayer Support Is Their Life Support.” Regarding the spiritual battle, Byun wrote, “In every battle, the top prize is to capture and take out the leader of the opposition because if you can take out the leader, the rest will be easier to deal with. We need to be aware that the enemy’s aim is to attack the leaders first and with force.” The enemy’s strategy is to bring discouragement and doubt during sermon preparation so that pastors are unfocused, prayer-less, and busy.
We’ve identified four struggles pastors face during sermon preparation. How should pastors respond to the struggles they face each week?
Surrender to God: Every morning, pastors are called to surrender their church, ministry, sermon preparation, and struggles to God in prayer. Isaiah prayed in Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am! Send me.” Surrendering to God does not mean pastors have failed in the struggle. Rather, surrendering means they’ve abandoned their efforts to the One who overcame our greatest struggle through the powerful work of Jesus.
Consider the Results: Struggles do not shackle pastoral ministry but rather shape pastoral ministry. Pastors must rest in the work of Christ, leaving the results to Him. As Hebrews 12:2 states, “Looking to Jesus, the founder, and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
As pastors stand before God’s flock, weary from the struggles, consider the journey that led from text to proclamation. Consider the joy of preaching Jesus. Consider the joy of opening God’s Word with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Consider the joy of those who hear the Gospel for the first time.
The journey to the pulpit does not display pastoral wisdom, strength, or work ethic, but the pastoral journey magnifies God. Soli Deo Gloria.
What struggles do you face when preparing to preach? Share your sermon preparation process in the comments below.
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