By Chuck Lawless
Anybody who knows me probably knows I love to preach. I so clearly knew God’s calling many years ago that only disobedience would allow me to ignore preaching today.
To be candid, though, preaching scares me. Here’s why:
- I will answer to God for what I say. As a 13 year old, I strongly sensed God’s guiding me, “I want you to preach My Word.” I know God will hold me accountable for every word I say, and He will not ignore any carelessness from my lips (Matt. 12:36-37). Recklessness in preaching is an invitation to judgment.
- What I do affects eternity. Here, I am not suggesting that my preaching somehow trumps the sovereignty of God. On the contrary, I am simply aware that God uses the proclamation of His Word to save souls (Rom. 10:9-15). That truth means that preaching really does have an eternal impact.
- I may have only one opportunity to speak truth to a hearer. A non-believer (or a believer, for that matter) may sit under my preaching only one time. In the midst of a busy life, he/she may offer listening ears for only a few minutes. I will miss that one-time open door if my preaching wanders from the Word.
- It’s easier to talk about “stuff” than it is to teach the Word. Preaching is hard work. From personal exegesis of the text to public proclamation of the message, preachers must dig into the Word, soak in it, be cleansed by it, and then deliver it. It’s just easier to use a few Bible verses as a launching pad to preach about “stuff” than to do the hard work of Bible exposition – and that reality scares me.
- At least for a few minutes, everybody is focused on me. Maybe I’m uniquely fallen, but I like the affirmations that come with preaching. For a short while, I am the “man of God” to whom others look for truth. Yes, I want my preaching to direct them to Jesus, but I must be honest with myself: preaching frightens me because it can instead become a means to build my ego.
- I can preach in my own strength. I’ve been preaching for 38 years, 33 of those in full-time ministry. I have two graduate degrees from a seminary, and I’ve taught preaching courses. What frightens me is that I can rely on my training, my knowledge, and my experience when I preach – and completely lack the power and blessing of God.
- Preaching puts my life under the microscope. Those who listen to my sermons presume my life will validate my words. I preach the Word publicly on Sunday, but they have a right to see obedience and faithfulness in my life every day of the week. In fact, the very Word I preach gives them the lens through which to view my life. That’s humbling . . . and a bit disconcerting.
- The devil attacks preachers. The gospel is “God’s power for salvation” (Rom. 1:16, HCSB). Thus, it is not surprising that the enemy aims his arrows at preachers to hinder us from preaching and living out the Word. Our very calling to proclaim the gospel puts the enemy’s bullseye on our back.
- Somebody probably won’t like something about the message. It’s too long. Or too short. Not enough Bible. Too much Bible. Too much application, or not enough application. You’re too loud. Or too soft. You don’t preach like my favorite preachers on the Internet. For those of us who can wrongly be perfectionistic and people-pleasing at times, preaching is a risky endeavor.
- Somebody will listen. Somebody who hears will take the message to heart and follow it. I’ve been in places around the world where hearers take the message and proclaim it almost word-for-word that day to their villages. If somebody is going to listen, I need to approach the Word with seriousness and humility.
For all these reasons, preaching scares me a bit. But here’s what scares me the most: that I will someday approach preaching without the earnestness it demands. I’m well aware that a healthy respect for the task today can become only routine tomorrow.
Please pray that God will give me grace to keep that slide from happening. If you are a preacher, share this post—and invite others to pray for you as well.
Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.
Posted on March 5, 2015
Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
More from Chuck
If you don’t mind, I’ll add one of my own…preaching is scary because you never know if its the last one you’ll ever preach. Who knows. God may call you home right after you preach this sermon….people will take what you have to say in those moments as your last words and important words…so what will you say with them? I’ve only been preaching regularly for about 5 years, but all of these thoughts and more come through my mind regularly as I prepare. Thanks!
Someone has wisely said you should preach every sermon as though it were the very first time, as though it could be the best time, and as though it might be the last time!