By Dave Harvey
The conclusion of a sermon is a dangerous moment for the preacher. He has just spent 30-45 minutes in an expository deluge, dumping his study and zeal upon his congregation. The 10-20 hours of sermon preparation are now ancient history and he’s climbed in his car for the drive home. Most likely, he is exhausted – emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
I’ve been there. And over the last 30 years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about what I should do and what I shouldn’t do following a sermon. Here are three key lessons:
Preaching picks a fight with the Enemy each week. Paul told the Corinthians, “. . . it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe”(1 Corinthians 1:21). This means they are snatched from, “. . . the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). My point is that God uses preaching as a means to change people — to spring them from the Enemy’s dominion.
The dark side has an opinion about that activity. It must be stopped. Don’t be naive in thinking that the delivery of the message means your removal from his crosshairs. Message preparation — with its Scripture study, meditation, and prayer — has protective benefits. After the sermon, you are typically spent and empty. Just another way to say you are vulnerable to an air strike.
The flesh is hard at work also. Preaching stirs temptation. On one side is pride over how God is using you, the other side supplies condemnation over how God is not using you. Then there’s the issue of the actual message, where you’ve spoken many words knowing, “. . . when words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19).
Where men preach, flaws abound.
If you’ve preached for any amount of time, you now know every message has some deficiencies. Well, those weakness get real friendly on Sunday afternoon by knocking on your door to visit. Don’t open the door! They will invade your house, disturb your peace and color the entire message in your eyes. You’ll feel stupid. Condemned. Like the entire sermon was ruined.
There is a time and place for everything under the sun. Evaluating your sermon immediately after your sermon makes you hate your sermon.
After preaching, you must prepare yourself for attacks by the Enemy and the flesh. Just as soldiers prepare for the onslaught of the enemy, so you must prepare to be attacked.
Before, during, and after attacks, run to the good news of the Gospel. Realize that preaching is about the power of God’s word, not your words. Remember, there’s no sermon delivery in the history of the world that was so bad it drained God’s word of power. God is big enough to allow people to remember his eternal words and forget your stupid ones. Do you really think God’s purpose rests on the quality of your preaching? That’s not what you preach. Sunday afternoon is your time to apply.
After preaching, prepare yourself for attack by remembering that God is bigger than your mistakes.
QUIET YOUR SOUL
When you are under attack, your soul will be loud. Accusing thoughts will bang on the door of your mind, demanding your attention. Or maybe self-inflating ideas, ones where your self-regard catches flight and you think of yourself “more highly than (you) ought to think” (Romans 12:3). In those moments, you must quiet your soul.
Quiet your soul by trusting God with the results of your sermon. Quiet your soul by fixing your thoughts upon God, not your performance. If you feel proud, remember that your message is meaningless unless God chooses to make it potent. If you feel condemned, remember the word of the Lord does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). Your sermon will accomplish exactly what God desires. Fortunately, you can’t thwart his good plans!
You must ignore the attack you are experiencing and fix your mind on superior things (Philippians 4:8). The best counsel for a preacher driving away from a church service is, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). Doing this keeps both critiques and compliments in their rightful places.
Once you have entrusted your sermon to God, give your mind a rest. Distract yourself. I need at least 2-3 hours to regroup after a sermon. I spend that time reading, watching a program or even sleeping. When our kids were younger, I might do something with them that diverted and replenished.
Someone once said that preaching a sermon is the equivalent of 8 hours of manual labor. I’m not sure it’s true, but I know it certainly feels that way! The point is to tend your body and soul so that it rebounds and gets ready for the next message.
Because preaching stirs both accusation and admiration, you’ll be tempted to go fishing for compliments. You’ll ask leading questions designed to elicit positive feedback – a kind of identity booster. I’ve done it way too many times. There are few things more hollow than a solicited compliment. Except maybe when you’re fishing for a compliment and you catch a pole-bending critique. It’s helpful to remember that when fishing, you often don’t know what you might snag.
The deeper problem behind this fishing expedition is that we are too delivery centered. We want to know how we came across. How it “felt,” as if that were some barometer of what God was actually doing, or will do. We feel the need to prop ourselves up with the approval and praise of others, rather than entrusting ourselves to God.
It’s good to remember that most preachers get more encouragement in a month than other professions get in a decade. Don’t fish. And when it does come, transfer the glory to God.
And for goodness sake, don’t listen to your own podcast. Here’s why: you are hopelessly subjective when it comes to evaluating your sermon. You poured 15-20 hours into the preparation, which means objectivity left the room days ago. If you really want help, choose some experienced preachers and trusted congregants that don’t crave your approval and recruit their help to provide constructive feedback. Then thank them for giving it, regardless of what they say.
Charles Spurgeon, arguably the greatest preacher of the past 300 years, famously said, “It is a long time since I preached a sermon that I was satisfied with. I scarcely recollect ever having done so.”
And this guy was called “The Prince Of Preachers”!
If Spurgeon found himself unsatisfied with his sermons, it’s safe to say that mere mortals like you and I will find ourselves in that same position.
Let’s be ready for those moments.