I love writing sermons. It is why I became a pastor. Others have told me I’m a pretty good preacher.
But I can’t preach. Or perhaps more accurately, I can’t write. I can’t put the thoughts together. I can’t concentrate. I can’t read (even other sermons). The thought of actually stringing together twelve minutes of application of the Word of God, delivering the Gospel, and putting this all together, well, it terrifies me.
Well, the fact that I am writing this to you is a sign that things are getting better. I hope to be well enough to actually write and preach a sermon soon. But we will leave this in the Lord’s hands on the timing of it all.
But I understand the fear of preaching. Anyone who truly understands the character and nature of preaching should have a holy fear of this great and awesome task. With Isaiah we cry out “I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips!” No one is worthy in their own right to preach God’s Word. It is only by the call of God to the Office of Preaching that one can preach at all.
So all of us preachers should have a holy fear of preaching. Like handling dynamite or a live fish, it must be done very carefully in the best of circumstances.
But that really isn’t what I’m talking about here. Depression and anxiety do things to us sermon writers. (These may apply in other areas as well, but I’m talking about getting back into preaching here.) Here’s some of them from depression:
- It utterly taps your energy. Sermons, if they are done properly, are a lot of work. It is a craft, learned in the school of experience. They are some combination between poetry, prose, persuasive speaking, the way a father speaks to his children, and who knows what else. But if you don’t have the juice to get up in the morning, your run-of-the-mill sermon becomes a mountain looking down at you and laughing.
- You come to believe everyone is judging you. My sermons aren’t what they used to be. I’m just not my old self. Why don’t I have the fire of my youth?
- Giving is almost impossible. Depression creates such a blanket and such a darkeness that the act of actually giving to someone else (in the sense of preaching the Gospel) is like a trying to cut your leg off and give it to someone. It is physically painful at times. I’m going to write about this more, because most people don’t realize that depression isn’t simply mental. It is very physical.
Anxiety, on the other hand, does other things:
- Makes you afraid of other people or situations of stress. While for those pastors who are truly comfortable in the chancel and the pulpit, this may not be so much. But for others, standing in front of 200 people is terrifying.
- You become afraid you’re going to have a heart attack or something to that effect. Heart racing, mind running a million miles a second (and in suuupppeeerrr sllllooooowwww moooottiiioonnn at the same time due to depression), and you might just pass out from the whole thing.
- You get a gargantuan desire to simply run away and hide. Not deal with it, people, the situation, whatever. Flee! Run to the hills! Anywhere but there. I have often described anxiety as basically a phobia about everything. Hard to live with, especially while preaching.
So what is the recovering preacher to do? It’s a tough one. But here are a few tips:
- Don’t think of this process as a failure you have to live with forever. God heals in His own time and at His own pace. You are not a failure because you’re sick and can’t preach. The fact that you have some desire to get at it again (which may take months or even years to get to that point) is a sign of healing. It will take time, but God, your church, your family, and everyone want you back. You are not a failure.
- Start off by using a recycled sermon, but one that is YOURS. I know this isn’t the same as getting things flowing all the way, but it can help you build up confidence to get back into the oratorical saddle.
- Try short spurts of work on the sermon. This is hard for me, because I usually sit down and write a sermon in one fell swoop. But it may require rethinking that process. You may not be able to concentrate for that long in one stretch. That’s okay. Things can change. It may take longer for things to percolate. Think of it as a fine wine, rather than an automatic drip coffeemaker.
- Pray. Short and sweet if that’s all you’ve got. Kyrie eleison. They are the Lord’s Words, not yours. He will be there for you.
Well there are my thoughts on the challenges of getting back into preaching. Anyone else have something to contribute?