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The Universal Experiences of Preachers

If C.S. Lewis is right, all preachers should share a connection as servants of the Word.

It was Lewis who expressed the nature of friendship when he said something like this, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” This is the heartening moment of discovering that you’re not on your own.


Preachers have more than a few shared experiences. As someone privileged to serve in pulpit ministry for twenty years now, I’ve had countless conversations with colleagues at church meetings, conferences, and social gatherings.

While our congregations might have been unalike, our education at different levels, and our personalities varied, our more vulnerable conversations were often marked by one of those “C.S. Lewis” moments.

The honest confession of pulpit pride is echoed by everyone around the circle. The weary Sunday evening sigh is met with sympathetic nods. The encouraging account of a sermon powerfully—even unexpectedly—blessed by God is relatable to all:

“What! You too? I thought I was the only one…”

There’s at least a couple handfuls of what I call “the universal experiences of preachers.” And having read dozens of homiletics books as a trainer of preachers, this collection has only grown. Somehow seeing these experiences in print, written by men I’ve never met, confirms the universality of what a preacher encounters in his work: some of it wonderful, some of it ugly, some a privilege, some a burden.

My ministerial colleagues and my homiletics bookshelf attest to the non-uniqueness of each of these moments:

  • Coming into the pulpit feeling proud of your sterling effort on this sermon, preaching it with confidence (maybe even a little arrogance), and expecting nothing less than enthusiastic adulation afterwards. For some sermons are so good, their exposition so precise, their application so resonant, that it will effect great transformation. To your surprise, however, you are met in the church lobby post-service with deafening silence, or maybe indifference: “Hey, thanks for that, Pastor. I’ll see you next week.” Every preacher has been there.


  • Or thinking of another minister who can always do it better than you. Maybe it’s your colleague on the other side of the city, or it’s the fiery guy whose sermons get hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube—whoever it is, they’re really good, and you feel like a dud next to them.


  • I know I’m not the only one who gets some of my best sermon ideas when I actually step away from sermon-writing. I’m out running, or washing the dishes, or listening at a music recital, and the perfect theme for a sermon just pops into my head, a great insight, a suitable illustration. I wasn’t looking for it, but God gave it, and I’ll use it.

  •  Another common experience for pastors the world over is a set of symptoms that practically has its own psychological diagnosis: the “Monday morning blues.” It’s a general feeling of malaise on the day after Sunday. It’s a combination of physical exhaustion, spiritual depletion, and regret for all the things that should’ve been said better. It’s not a nice feeling, but it does pass.

  •  Or dragging a half-baked sermon into church—a message that is decidedly weak and underdeveloped—and being met in the lobby afterwards with grateful tears, warm praise, and genuine enthusiasm. You’re embarrassed by the response, and rightly so. Somehow God was able to do something wonderful with that middling message, and it had little to do with you.


  • Apparently, many preachers have a recurring nightmare. It usually involves a forgotten sermon or a mind suddenly gone blank, and you stand looking at your congregation with nothing to say.


  • Or have you ever read one of your old sermons from ten or fifteen years ago? I have too, and it can be painful.

Maybe you’ve noticed that most of these shared experiences aren’t that positive. They tend towards the darker side of our moods. Or they reflect how we preachers too, are still slowly putting to death our pride, self-sufficiency, and complacency.

And that points to how it also seems normal for many preachers to feel inadequate for their work. In fact, it’s a feeling already attested to by the apostles, like Paul who asked this about his burdensome ministry of preaching Christ: “Who is equal to such a task?” (2 Cor 2:16). Reading this from the pen of the great apostle, we might ask, “What! You too?”

Yet Paul answers his own question a few verses later, “Our competence comes from God” (2 Cor 3:5). In reconciling sinners to himself, God commands that the saving message of Christ be preached. And God enables and then uses imperfect human servants to carry out this eternally meaningful work.


That too, is something many preachers share: a deep sense of wonder at the privilege of heralding Christ. We know our limitations as preachers, and we know how much we need this gospel ourselves. Yet God calls us to the beautiful work of preaching Christ, and even gives the opportunity to make it the labour of our life!


So we say again with Paul, our brother in preaching, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” (1 Cor 15:10).


First published at The Gospel Coalition (Canada)


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