I don’t know that I’ve ever heard preachers talk about their “slumps.” Maybe I’m the only one who feels he has been in one. Or, maybe there are some things we don’t talk about at polite preacher dinner parties. I don’t know, but it sure seems like it would be healthy for preachers to admit that sometimes we’re “off our game.” I don’t mean we preach one dud. I mean we’ve now had a series of lackluster at bats. In fact, not only have the sermons been sub-par, our hearts haven’t been feeling what we’ve been preaching. We know the words, hear them, believe them (usually), but we’re not moved by it.

And Sunday keeps coming. What to do?

I’m no expert on either preaching or getting out of slumps. But doodling tonight, I thought of six things that might help.

1. Get on Your Knees

So much of preaching ineffectiveness actually begins in the prayer closet. The preacher looks up and finds they’ve either had little motivation to pray, or their prayers have become rote, or the urgent  has bullied prayer from their calendar. In either case, the remedy isn’t technique in the pulpit. It’s humility in the prayer closet. Preachers can be guilty of the “practical atheism” or prayerlessness. I know I’ve sensed the difference in my own heart and the apparent fruitfulness of my preaching when I’ve been faithful in private communion with God.

2. Get Perspective

Sometimes the slump comes from over-thinking. Like the shooter who once lofted three-pointers without a conscience but now hesitates. He’s thinking twice about whether to take the shot. The preacher can think too much about that exegetical point, illustration, or application. We can over-think delivery or think too much about our audience, or place too much confidence in the sermon. When that happens perhaps we need to remember a couple basic things. We preach for an audience of One. The word does the work. The Lord buries the worker and carries on the work. We need to get our minds fixed on the omnipotent God who frames the heavens with a two-letter word. We need to rely more heavily on God himself. He will cause His word to accomplish His purposes.

3. Get Help

Sometimes a preacher just needs help. Ever wonder why professional golfers or professional basketball players have coaches? Sometimes bad habits develop. There’s a hitch in the swing, or the elbow needs to be perpendicular to the floor on that free throw. But we can’t see it. We need someone else to help us. We shouldn’t be too proud to get such help–whether it’s asking a fellow pastor to listen to a few sermons, or conducting sermon reviews with staff, or taking up a good read on preaching. From time to time, preaching slumps are broken with a little impartial and loving influence from the outside. We shouldn’t be afraid to get it.

4. Get Over Yourself

This is a close cousin to #2 above. Where #2 involves getting a proper perspective on God, this requires getting a proper perspective on ourselves as men and preachers. If there’s one thing I know about preaching and preachers it’s that preaching is a hothouse for pride and preachers are often terribly insecure. Our heads swell and we think we’re “good” or even “great” preachers after a couple sermons the Lord seems to bless. We can so easily forget to ascribe glory to God when He takes our otherwise lifeless and uninspired words and makes them into a meal and nourishment for our people. Conversely, a “bad” sermon or an “okay” sermon that failed to conjure praise can leave a preacher careening toward doubt and self-pity. In either case, we simply need to get over self. We need the flesh to be crucified afresh with Christ. We need a conscious strategy for forgetting ourselves, “hiding behind the cross,” and embracing our nothingness. If we could kill the tendency to bolster our sagging self-image and ego needs through the pulpit we would find ourselves blissfully free of pride-induced slumps.

5. Get Rest

So much of our spiritual life depends on adequate rest as an act of faith. There’s a great difference between forcing yourself to sleep and resting in the Lord. The regular cycle of pastoral ministry necessitates adequate times of respite. This is all the more critical if the people-intensive nature of pastoral ministry and preaching feels like a heavy tax. Not every preacher is an introvert. Those who aren’t need regular retreats in their routine. We all do. So it’s important to monitor your schedule, your energy levels, and your recreation (in the old sense of that word). Energy and rest affect preaching. If we rest before we’re depleted we may find our slumps less frequent and less deep.

6. Get on with It

The slumping shooter has to keep shooting. The slumping golfer has to keep swinging. The slumping quarterback has to keep throwing. Likewise, the slumping preacher has to keep preaching. It may do him good to get away for a season of refreshment. But eventually he’ll have to climb the stairs to the sacred desk again and preach. That’s what he does. And there’s no way around a slump, only through it. So, we need to recommit ourselves to doing our text work, praying, reading, writing, praying, and then preaching with our entire selves. Leave it all in the people’s ears and tee it up again next Sunday. Gardner Taylor once called preaching “sweet torture.” And so it is. It can be a torturous calling. But to the called it’s a sweet and holy privilege.

Questions: Have you ever had a preaching slump? Do you think you’ve ever seen your pastor in a preaching slump? What do you do [or your pastor do] to get out of preaching slumps?

Print Friendly

Comments:


19 thoughts on “Getting Through a Preaching Slump”

  1. JA says:

    right on time!!! God never fails to amaze me at His timely provision. thank you and praises to the great provider!

  2. Mason says:

    In response to your 2nd question, I believe listeners ought to be careful we’re not seeing slumps where there are none. Sometimes we can take on the position of judging a pastor intead of seeing the messenger & the message for what they really are. Many of those points apply to the hearer as well. Perhaps we should approach each sermon with the intent & eagerness to hear from God rather than attempt to identify whether our pastors are preaching well. I can’t claim success in always applying this but I pray, by God’s work in me, that my listening slumps will be increasingly farther apart.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Mason,

      Very well said, brother. We always need ears to hear, don’t we? Thanks for contributing!

      T-

    2. David Negley says:

      Agreed, Mason!! I would encourage congregations to first look at a seeming slump and ask themselves, “Is this really a ‘me-problem’?”

    3. Brandon Miller says:

      Thabiti, thanks for your post! As a young man training for full-time pastoral ministry, I greatly value your honesty and insight into the unique challenges and joys faced by pastors.

      Jesse, right on brother! If I can throw in a book recommendation; I found Thabiti’s chapter, “…Expositional Listener,” in “What is a Healthy Church Member” both convicting and encouraging on this topic.

  3. Tony Huy says:

    Thanks Thabiti for your post. It spoke to my heart. For me, one way I get out of a slump and deal with both pride and insecurity is try to have a short memory. I find the weekly cycle of preaching is a wonderful mechanism of grace that protects me from soaking in a bad week and swelling in a good week. So, I try to jump into and orient my heart towards the next sermon Monday morning – both to get ahead on my study but to leave the past Sunday in God’s hands. When I don’t do this, I find I spend far too much time in retrospection of how Sunday went. I also find that praying for God’s people specifically helps tremendously in helping to get over myself. Serving God’s people on my knees as hard as I serve them in the pulpit does wonders for my heart.

  4. A hearing slump,

    Now that is something that needs to be talked about,and how it can also play a significant role in affecting the preaching and the preacher.

    What if the congregation is going through a slump, just not as attentive, enthusiastic, motivated, or passionate as they usually are? Many reasons can be cited;

    Often the preacher will contribute this to his personal spiritual condition or performance when it may be one or the other of both.

    The remedy suggested by Thabiti is of course appropriate for the preacher but what is the remedy for the slumping congregation?

    This is after all a collaborative process as I see it.

    And how blessed is the pastor whose congregation has been taught or instinctively understands their role in supporting the preaching, even when it is not that great a times.

    It seems to me while both the congregation and the preacher can and does go through slumps a commitment to mutual support in an intentional way authentic to true worship will minimize the seasons of slump for either, as we make the audience of One
    our constant purpose for preaching and worship.

  5. Terry Gbison says:

    Not sure about the slump part. But I do preach my share of weak sermons. One thing I keep reminding myself is that it is God’s Word, not mine. I am focussing more and more on reading the text [with appropriate context] out loud to the congregation. That way when my words are weak, or confusing, or boring at least they heard God’s Words.
    This may fit into your point 4.

  6. Ronnie says:

    :-)
    You know those who in work in developing teaching practice in education think about four different types of teacher. The unconsciously incompetent, consciously incompetent, unconciously competent, conscious competent. It’s a debate in the sector which of the last two is best, but this is true: consistently good teachers remain so because of realistic reflection on their practice centred around the progress of the learners. There are recognitions too, citing old adages about horses and water. But the basics are this: you must prepare a lesson where each learner in the room will and does learn something they didn’t know before. To achieve this in a pastoral setting it’s going to involve the recognition that your congregation is a mixed ability class, with unique learning stages and modes, some with special education needs, some with specific gifts. It’s going to involve constant pastoral assessment, knowing your learners, their stage of development and the next step for them.
    My teaching slumps in the classroom with roudy teenagers often occur when I have lost touch with where my learners are and what their needs are. My practice becomes ineffective as I deliver what I want, not what they need.
    Therefore, my rememdy would be this (remembering that I am not pastor but just a normal teacher): get back intouch with your congregation, know their needs, and meet them, every single one. It’s tall order but fortunately you have the same power that spoke the universe into creation working within you, and he is so wonderful he’s already given you everything you need for life and godliness!

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Great comments Ronnie! Thanks for joining in. And make sure your pastor gets in touch with his congregation–especially two little adorable kiddos :-)
      T-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

Thabiti Anyabwile's Books