Last week, I received an email with a good question about preaching:
I have heard people say that preaching is more about preaching sermons that are “base hits”* rather than hitting a “home run”* every week. This seems to be very true of my own preaching (even though I sometimes don't feel like I get on base*) and it also is a more biblical view of long-term sanctification over a lifetime.
My question is, "How does a pastor handle the pressure of preaching every week?" If I’m being honest, I feel that I have to hit a home run* or I have wasted everyone's time that week. Does the pastor prepare his sermon so that it's a base hit* or do you swing for the fences* every week?
Here's my stab at an answer:
Almost every pastor will have the experience you mention.
Some sermons seem to resonate in a special way with the congregation. In these cases, you can feel it while you are preaching: the congregation is uniquely still and quiet (or loud and animated – depending on your denomination) and there is a sense of holy awe. After the sermon, there is evident joy in the singing and prayers and conversations that happen after church. These “home run” sermons are a lot of fun to preach.
But most sermons are “base hits”. The preacher presents the meaning of the text, teaches and applies it faithfully, and the congregation receives it gladly. Nothing unusual seems to happen, but God’s people are taught his word and the church moves on.
A few observations and a conclusion for you:
- There may be legitimate reasons why you aren’t feeling encouraged about the course of your preaching. It could be the result of insufficient work in the text, sloppiness in crafting a message, or failure to prepare yourself spiritually. I’m not saying that is definitely the case, but it is possible. Try to get input from godly people in your church about your preaching in order to make sure that you’re not missing something.
- Your observation about sanctification is correct. It seems that God normally changes us and builds his church gradually. Most sermons will be more like putting a brick in wall than building the whole wall in one morning’s message.
- I’m not sure that “home run” sermons are used by God to accomplish much more than “normal” sermons. They are more exciting, but I don’t know that they are necessarily the means of more conversions or more sanctification. In fact, I’ve been surprised more than once when someone professed faith in Christ after what I thought was a pretty mediocre sermon on an obscure text.
There’s a danger to teaching your people (and yourself) to desire and expect a “home run” every week.
- It can tempt the preacher to “cherry pick” texts that are particularly given to exciting sermons. If you have to have a home run every week, books like Lamentations and Titus aren’t going to get a lot of play in your rotation.
- It can also tempt the preacher to over-reach and manipulate in order to stir up the congregation.
- It can also teach the congregation that if they haven’t felt something obviously exciting, God wasn’t at work. This may connect to your fear that you’ve wasted everyone’s time if you don’t hit a “home run”.
- Preaching is normally an exercise of faith more than sight. We don’t always see the immediate results of our labors, but the preacher must press on in confidence that God is powerfully accomplishing his purposes.
- I don’t think that you should prepare your sermon with a “home run” in mind. Make sure you understand the text, make sure that you have done the hard work of prayerfully meditating on how the text applies to the lives of your congregation, make sure you have labored to organize your message in a helpful way, make sure you have chosen compelling ways to communicate the message, beg the Holy Spirit to attend the preaching of the Word… and then let it rip. The results are up to God.
* For our international readers, these are baseball terms. Baseball is a sport like cricket, just way more awesome.