Preachers face the arduous task of preaching every week. Often, on Saturday, the pastor feels “steam-rollered” after a busy week. Drained, the preacher scrambles to organize a sermon. He struggles to find something to preach. A day of rest becomes a wrestling match with every preacher’s enemy — the preaching slump.
Consider the story of Dr. Preach. His preaching became a dry river bed of cracked sermons, dry-heated stories, and dust blown nostalgia. He longed to preach powerful sermons which refreshed the saints, but his efforts were to no avail. Congregational affirmation encouraged him that he had preached Christ powerfully before. Now his sermons were more like a whirlwind of nothing rather than a cool breeze. He prayed tearfully for the Holy Spirit to water his soul, but he still felt dry. He yearned for a full bucket of God’s sweet, drenching rain so he might pour spiritual Water into the hearts of those who heard his sermons.
Have you ever been in a preaching slump?
Preachers who take preaching seriously enter the preaching task with high expectations. A preacher aims for the bull’s eye. He enters that first church with starry eyes, wild dreams, and confidence that everyone will hear every sermon with abundant joy. Expectations send him on a journey that promises perfect sermons, glowing attendance, and rave sermon reviews.
Expectations, though, can be deceiving. Years ago I traveled to Detroit, to preach. I arrived on Saturday, was picked up at the airport by a friend, and informed of our special treat for Saturday night. I would sit court side at a Detroit Pistons basketball game, invited to participate in an activity during a television time-out. My mind raced. Would this be a chance to hit a half-court shot for a million dollars? Was this my chance to hit a three-pointer for a free trip to Hawaii? Would I swish the net from the free throw line and win a new Jeep? Expectations overflowed.
The game started. My moment came. As instructed, I put on a biking helmet, placed my forehead on a baseball bat, went around it twelve times to the tune of music, and stumbled like a drunken man while trying to shoot the basketball in the basket. My hopes swam in a whirlwind. I won the event as I made the shot in front of twenty-thousand fans! The event coordinator awarded me the grand prize, a Detroit Pistons’ cap and a thirty-five dollar sweatshirt! Expectations fizzled in the light of reality.
Slumps come when reality conquers expectations. Lofty dreams fade when Sister Emma falls asleep for the seventh Sunday in a row. The hope of perfect sermons disappears when the criticism committee stands in the hall after the sermon and you overhear a comment: “I hope the preaching gets better. This morning did absolutely nothing for me!”
Rave reviews turn inward as the preacher hits a slump and becomes self-critical, leading in turn to self-condemnation. This condemnation causes the mind to play games — tricky games of more condemnation which produce loneliness. Loneliness drags the slump into deep despair. Can the preacher keep preaching?
The Apostle Paul said, There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus …” (Romans 8:1, NIV). But is there not some condemnation for those who preach Christ Jesus? At least when expectations crumble? When a preaching slump shows up on Saturday night for the sixth week in a row?
Why a Slump?
The question arises, “Why a slump?” How do preachers find their way into the black hole of a slump?
Physical weariness. One simple reason for a slump is sheer physical exhaustion. Burning the candle at both ends usually causes the preacher to meet the burned out self in the middle. Appointments, hospital visits, study time, phone calls, committee meetings, and general administration add up to physical punishment. Weariness dehydrates the mind, soul, and spirit of preaching. A slump ensues.
Information overload. Another reason for the preaching slump is information overload. The preacher studies diligently. He conjugates Greek verbs. Commentaries flow with information and are digested. Outlines form. The preacher chases illustrations to cast light on the shadows of the sermon. As the preacher concludes preparation, his work short circuits. Too much information clouds the sermon’s message. Not knowing exactly what to say, what to throw aside, and what fits the point of the sermon, the preacher sits in frustration. There is so much information, but nothing to say. Information overload parches the creativity and spontaneity of preaching.
No Study Time. The opposite is equally true. A preacher faces not only the challenge of too much information, but also the daunting challenge of finding enough time to study. It’s not that the preacher faces long, tired, wearisome days, but simply the multiplied tasks of the preacher often place preaching preparation at the bottom of the list. This is especially true for single staff churches. You know this is true when you hear a church member say, “I wish I had an easy job like that. That preacher does not know what real work is. It must be nice to sit in an office and read the Bible all day!”
The anguish of no study time pushes the preacher into the relentless Saturday night scramble, which, after a while, sends the preacher headlong in to the cave of a preaching slump.
Lack of Motivation. The worst kind of slump enters the mind, soul, and spirit of the preacher when motivation wanes. Church conflict steals the joy of ministry. Personal crises question the call of the preacher. Preaching to empty pews threatens the enthusiasm for proclaiming the Gospel. Preaching when there is little or no response disturbs the heart of the preacher. The preacher surrenders in tears, falls before God, and cries, “What’s the use, Lord? Nobody’s listening anyway!” Such pressures mount, scorching one’s motivation.
Can a preacher find a way out of the slump? Is there a way to dig out of the slump’s depth? In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss:
And when you’re in a slump,
you’re not in for much fun.
Un-slumping yourself
is not easily done.1
Many a preacher looked for light in the darkness of slump, quit preaching, and never knew that such a slump is normal for every preacher. Relax. Slumps happen. How does the preacher find Light in the dark corners of a slump? How does the preacher preach out of a slump?
Change your routine. One way to climb out of the preaching slump changing your normal study routine. Rather than trying to cram preparation for preach-ing into one block of time toward the end of the week, prepare early in the week. Study in small time blocks a little time each day. Learn to prepare while traveling to the hospital for a visit. Turn off talk radio and meditate on the passage while you drive. Jot down a few thoughts or notes when you stop in the parking lot.
Change your routine also by listening to one sermon tape a week, especially those of a preacher from another denomination. Change your reading habits in regard to commentaries. Go to a library and find old commentaries related to your preaching topic. Changing your routine is to preaching what caffeine is to the body: a jolt to awaken you from sluggishness. Preach a series.
Another way to preach out of the doldrums is to preach a series. Preach a series on Old Testament characters or the Psalms or the prophets or the parables in the New Testament or a series on Old Testament sayings found in the New Testament or the sayings of Jesus from the Gospels. Think of a series that addresses human need or one on handling crises or how God’s servants faced adversity. Preaching a series will challenge you plan to preaching at least 4 to 8 weeks in advance as opposed to trying to come up with something to preach each week. A series excites the boredom out of a slump.
Preach a book. Another way to preach out of the despair of a slump is to preach a book of the Bible. Organize your preparation by reading two or three good commentaries along with one published sermon on each passage you intend to preach. This pours fresh water on those parched sermons. It adds moisture to the dry river bed of refried illustrations. It exposes you to excellent preaching, too. Exposure to quality preaching improves the quality of your own preaching while challenging you to try new approaches to certain biblical passages.
Do a preaching survey. Another way to climb out of the hole of a slump is to create and distribute a preaching survey to your members. Be strong before you do this. Some folk may want to offer advice on preaching or critique. Create a survey that invites response to their needs or questions about the Bible. One simple survey I did several years ago invited church members to write down their favorite passages. I took the survey and planned my Sunday night preaching schedule for one whole Fall. The survey and the interest heightened the participation on those Sunday nights. A survey may well be your answer for crawling out of the preaching slump.
Retreat. Some preachers recommend the preaching retreat as one way to calm the anxieties of a slump. The preacher retreats to a hotel or camp and plans a calendar of preaching for the whole year. The preacher takes a calendar, highlights holidays and vacations, fills in special days like Christmas and New Year’s and builds a file of sermon ideas with Scripture passages for the whole year. Some even write out outlines for the whole year. I find outlining to that extent such an overwhelming task. But you can rise and shine from a slump by knowing what you will preach each week through an annual preaching retreat. And know that any retreat, or preaching plan, should begin with prayer and end with flexibility.
Exercise and rest. One simple way to find your way out of the dark maze of a preaching slump is through simple exercise and rest. Weariness drains the spiritual battery of a preacher. Thoughts do not come clearly. Concentration weakens. Creativity fades. Understanding of a topic or Scripture passage clouds in a slump. What’s your best move in times like these?
Exercise on a regular basis. This opens the mind. This charges the battery of preparation. Rest. Get plenty of sleep. Each person requires a different amount of sleep. Determine your needs, then make sure you get the necessary sleep. It will energize your preaching. Preach. Mostly, preaching out of slump demands that you preach and keep preaching, even when you do not feel like it. I believe it was Charles Spurgeon who once said, “There were times when I did my best preaching and nothing happened. And there were other times when I preached an awful sermon, but wonderful things happened. God did His greatest work in those awful times.
Preachers in a slump are like baseball players, you must keep standing in the batter’s box to take your swings. It’s amazing how an 0-for-4 can turn into a home-run when you faithfully stand in the preacher’s box and toss the Word of God to those in the stands. For who knows what God will do?
And who’s to say that you might not be in a slump? But your hearers might be slumping when you are not and it just seems you are in a slump. For in preaching is a wacky art of connecting hearing and listening in that crucial climax of decision.
So here’s my prescription for preaching out of a slump: Stay balanced. Stay close to the cross. Stay strong in the Word. Pray consistently. Study daily. Rest often. Wait patiently for the Light to penetrate the darkness! Preach in season and out of season. Preach Christ crucified. Who knows where you’re preaching will take you? And what amazing things God will do as He preaches through you!
1Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go (New York: Random House, 1990), 19.

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