“What we, and our churches, need most is for us to be engaging our hearts as we prepare to preach, after we preach and as we work through our own emotions in the days following. We would all agree it is not about us, so let’s pray that God would help us to live this way whether our sermons seem effective or not.”
One of the greatest challenges for a pastor when he preaches is not his speaking ability (though it is important to speak well) or how accurate his exegesis of the passage was (though it is important to be diligent in the study). The greatest challenge for the preacher is the right managing of his own heart in the midst of the whole preaching process start to finish.
Here are three questions you can ask yourself as you seek to manage your heart:
1. Who is the primary audience you are preparing for?
When I first began to preach regularly I was much more concerned about what people thought of me than anything else. Sadly, when I was preparing I was thinking about myself and how I would come across when I was in the pulpit. I daydreamed about how powerful the Word would seem as I preached and what the people would think of me as I opened up the Word (always positive of course). When I thought about the text I was going to preach, it seemed so effortless in my mind in how the words would flow as I delivered my sermon in my mind’s eye. I would think of stories or jokes and imagine how people would love or laugh at the various illustrations.
What I got wrong was I was thinking almost entirely about myself. I do think a pastor should think about himself as he prepares, just not in the way I just described. The primary person who should be impacted by our sermon is ourselves. We should think of those in our congregation, of course, and be praying for the concerns that we know people have, and the trials they are going through, but we need the Word more than anyone else we know!
As I prepare, I need to remember, “I am preaching to myself, and then inviting the congregation in to listen as I preach with myself as the primary beneficiary.” I know that if I am being impacted by the Word of God through the Spirit, then others will be as well. If my aim is to entertain, or be prophetic, or insightful, or knowledgeable, then I am not working toward the end that Scripture intends as it is preached. God wants his Word to impact our minds and our hearts, with our hearts and minds being the first in line.
The danger for the pastor who only preaches occasionally on Sunday mornings is that there is such self-induced pressure to “hit a home run” that oftentimes it sounds like the preacher is directing his comments to the congregation alone, while bypassing his own heart in order to make people pay attention to him. People pay attention to the Word as it is preached when they can tell that the pastor himself believes what he is saying, not when he is simply a gifted orator or exegete.