Getting Through a Preaching Slump
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?