Every Week I Preach My Guts out and . . . Nothing Changes


In your mythological mind’s eye, behold Sisyphus. See him straining to roll a large boulder up a steep hill, only to have the boulder, just before reaching the top, tumble back down the hill. Immediately, he tries again with the same result.

As the story goes, Sisyphus is destined to relive this sad scenario for all eternity. How maddening to be on the brink of success and fall short again and again and again.

Preaching can feel like that. Every week, you push the rock up the hill, praying and preparing and preaching your guts out, only to feel as if you never reach the top. Maybe you hear “good job” and “that was helpful” and “thank you for all you do.” But you can’t help but notice some things:

  • Unbelievers visit the church regularly yet seem unaffected by the gospel.
  • Many church members remain marginally involved.
  • Some wrestle with the same sins they’ve had for years.
  • Marriages fail.
  • Kids who grew up in the church walk away from the faith.
  • Members leave over how you let them down.
  • Prayer meetings are sparsely attended.
  • Evangelistic zeal is minimal.
  • The missional impact of the church seems negligible.
  • The world continues to get worldlier.

It can seem as if your preaching changes nothing. The rock just keeps rolling back to the bottom of the hill.

The Sisyphean Lie

But is this really true? Is nothing actually changing? Even if our preaching is “out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2), God is always up to something through the faithful proclamation of his Word. Isaiah saw little fruit in his ministry, yet God assured him that the Word would not return empty but accomplish all that God had purposed for it (Isa. 55:11). It simply isn’t true that nothing is changing when we preach, despite how we feel.

More likely, the problem is that we are looking for immediate and obvious results, not gradual and subtle ones. We want God to set off fireworks, but he‘s more interested in farming. Scatter the seed and go to sleep, Jesus said. Plant and water, Paul said. In time, God will give the growth (cf. Mark 4:26–29, 1 Cor. 3:6–8). The work of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word is about as explosive as watching a garden grow.

Examine your own trajectory of growth and be encouraged. Your timeline is likely punctuated with moments of rapid change—thank God for those moments! More commonly, though, you would probably testify your transformation has been slow. Do you think it’s any different with the people to whom you preach?

In the words of Ray Ortlund, it takes time for people “to rethink their lives at a deep level, because people are complex and changing is not easy.”[1] God ordinarily forms and reforms his people through his Word not in minutes or seconds, but in years and decades. Such slow change may be discouraging to us but not to him, with whom a thousand years are as one day. The results of your preaching may be unspectacular, but your labor isn’t in vain. You aren’t Sisyphus.

Where to Look

Still, the lack of apparent change can be disheartening. What should the preacher do when he’s preaching his best but doesn’t see fruit? I would suggest looking around, looking above, and looking ahead.

Look Around for Fruit That IS Present

I bet you are overlooking fruit. Is that senior saint persevering in the faith? Is that new Christian following Jesus despite the social cost? Is that single man looking for ways to serve? Is that mother content in caring for her family? Is that young adult considering missions opportunities? Let there be no doubt that the preaching of God’s Word has contributed.

Just because the fruit is unassuming doesn’t mean it’s insignificant. Open your eyes to the simple work of God in people’s lives.

Look above to God as You Preach

It’s right to care about fruitfulness. We want God to use our preaching to save and sanctify. Regardless of the fruit, however, you can be satisfied knowing that you have been faithful to God. “Who is the faithful and wise servant,” Jesus once asked, “whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (Matt. 24:45–46).

Press on in faithful preaching—give the people their food at the proper time—and leave the results to God. Remember that you are ultimately speaking in Christ “in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 2:17), so render your service with good will “as to the Lord and not to man” (Eph. 6:7).

Look Ahead to the Day of the Lord

Presently, you cannot guess all the unseen work that God is doing through your preaching. But in the first light of eternity “each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it” (1 Cor. 3:13). On that day, if you have been faithful to preach Christ, you will see just how much God has used you in this world. I suspect you will be joyfully shocked.

Mowing in the Dark

Have you ever mowed your yard at dusk? You get home late from work, the sun is low in the sky, but you can’t leave the grass uncut one more day. You fire up the lawnmower and get busy. In the fading evening light, it’s difficult to see how well you’re doing. Are your lines straight? Is everything being cut? Will there be scruffy patches that you missed? You’ve worked as carefully as you can. Now hang tight. Daylight is coming, and the morning will reveal all. (Let the reader understand.)

Keep on preaching faithfully. This present darkness may obscure the fruit of your labor, but the sun is about to rise.

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[1] Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 72.

David King

David King is the senior pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN.

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