Sometimes My Preaching Stinks
By Travis K Miller
Am I the only one who thinks this way from time to time? Am I the only one who leaves a Sunday service feeling like I have just dropped the ball in extravagant fashion? Are there others who have finished a service and wondered how such a good thought could wind up coming out so pitifully? Somehow, I don’t think that feelings like these are unique to my experience.
Same Effort, Different Results
In the course of ministry, there are a variety of outcomes to our efforts. Whether preaching, teaching, singing, or simply testifying, sometimes we see wonderful results, and other times it seems as if our efforts were worthless. Over time, this variety of outcomes can be confusing.
Why does this happen? What is going on? Why is it that I can preach in one service and the “house comes down,” and then preach the same thing another time, in a different setting, and the people fall asleep?
I clearly recall such a situation. One Friday evening I was to preach a statewide youth rally. I followed my usual routine of prayer and preparation for the service. Then I conscientiously delivered what I felt to be God’s Word for that service. In the end, the youth in attendance responded genuinely and wonderfully to the Word and Spirit of the Lord. We had great church.
Exactly one week later, I was to preach the exact same kind of meeting in a different state. In prayer and preparation, I felt to preach the exact same message as the week prior. In the same kind of meeting, to the same kind of audience, I delivered the same Bible-based message that had brought such genuine response the previous week. Yet this time around, the audience just stared at me when I made the altar appeal. As I struggled to get the youth to respond to the Lord and His Word, they were reluctant. In the end, they did pray, but it was not a genuine, heartfelt response. They seemed to pray out of habit and respect for tradition.
Immediately, the questions began in my mind-What happened? Is there something wrong with me? Is there something wrong with the people? Was there something about the situation that I did not learn in prayer? Is there something else that I should have done?
As a public speaker, I recognize two particular facets of preparation and presentation that are of interest. The first deals with whether or not I feel like I have “heard from God” for the service. Preachers and teachers realize that we can share anything from the Bible and it is the Word of God, but I am speaking about the speaker’s desire to share from the specific portion of Scripture that is the will of God for that specific service. The second aspect is in regard to the presentation. It has to do with whether or not the congregation responds as if the message is indeed a word from God. Do they willingly and desirously react to the call to action or do they blankly stare as if unaware of the point?
The combinations of these two aspects create four possible outcomes:
1. I don’t feel like I have heard from God and the congregation responds like they agree with my feelings.
2. I don’t feel like I have heard from God, but the church responds wholeheartedly anyway.
3. I feel like I have heard from God, but the audience doesn’t respond in kind.
4. I feel like I have heard from God, and the congregation responds in agreement with my feelings.
Though there are other dimensions of message preparation and presentation, I sense that these four scenarios entail the largest percentage of the ministry experience. As such, it would be good for a preacher to explore each of them and discover the pitfalls and practical responses of each.
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