For as long as I can remember people have talked to me about the necessity of sweat. The teachers in school talked to me about the hard work necessary to get out of high school; you had to “sweat it” over all that homework to graduate. The advice did not change much in college; a college education was earned by late nights and a lot of “sweating” over the books.
When I got to seminary and was studying to become a preacher, I again was told that the secret of great preaching was the amount of study and sweat that went into the preparation of the sermon; it was “the sweat in the study that made for quality and power in the pulpit.” The claim was made that there could be no excuse for the shallow and the disorganized presentations which are said to be presented as sermons in many churches today except the lack of effort and sweat in the study.
It has only been in the last few years that I began to understand there was another kind of sweat necessary for good preaching. It was made very obvious to me when various members of the congregation would suggest that the ministers of the church could remove their robes during the summer because it was so hot, and nobody needed to sweat in worship. I guess it was the perception that preachers should not sweat while preaching that confronted me with the very reality that it was, indeed, the absence of this sweat in the pulpit which suggested why so much of the preaching we hear today has so little power.
Recently when one member suggested that I might take off my robe during the summer, I said to her, “Michael Jordan does not complain about sweating while he works. Broadway actors do not worry about sweating while they are on stage. Musicians and rock singers are accused of not working hard enough on a show if they do not sweat while performing.”
A preacher may not be giving a performance, but a preacher has to put as much energy and effort into his or her delivery as those on stage or it comes across as weak and dull. It is this dimension of sweating, real drops of sweat on the Pulpit Bible, that I have come to appreciate and to use as a measurement of just how much effort has gone into getting the Word of God from my head and heart into the head and heart of the congregation.
In reflecting on my seminary speech courses, I recall they were concerned with the dimension of energy invested in delivery, but somehow I got lost when they started talking about vowel sounds and how they needed to overcome my southern accent. I got lost in all the exercises of inflection, tone, rate, and volume. Sure, all of those exercises do contribute to the effectiveness of a presentation. They are means by which energy is invested in sermons, but my twenty years in the ministry now suggest to me that it is the energy invested, and not the accent or the inflections, which is the most important.
If a young man were to propose to a young woman with proper inflection and tone but no passion, she would be well advised to reject his offer. If he were to propose with real passion, probably the inflection, tone, rate, and volume would all seem correct, or she would overlook whatever faults were a part of that proposal.
This is not a defense for the reduction of sweat and effort in the study; it is an appeal for more sweat, work and energy invested in the preaching of the sermon. One of the most powerful preachers I ever listened to was so exhausted at the end of each preached sermon that he had trouble carrying on conversations at the after-service coffee. He was wet with sweat and emotionally drained. It should have been an object lesson for me even then, but it has taken me a few more years to understand what was happening.
I now understand that it is “sweat-energy” — intensity, conviction, power of delivery — that makes the difference.
Sweat in the study, and sweat in the pulpit. Most of the failures I have experienced in worship myself — and most of the times when I have worshipped in other places and come away feeling unfulfilled — it has been because there was no “sweat” generated in the presentation. We preachers have to work at “presenting” the Word of God — with the same spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional effort that we expect from the actor on stage, the singer in concert, and the hero in the sporting event.
There are many who keep asking the question: What happened to preaching; where have all the great preachers gone? I suggest that one of the things that has happened in preaching is that preachers stopped sweating in the pulpit. Preachers wanted to look and be dignified, calm and intellectual, but they did not bother to find out how to be dignified, calm, and intellectual and still convey power, energy, intensity, and conviction.
When more preachers need to wipe the sweat off their chins in the middle of a cold winter sermon, perhaps we will see the return of more great preaching.

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