An amateur is a person who does something simply for the love of the activity. An amateur photographer doesn’t think about selling his or her pictures, but is thrilled to be able to frame a moment and capture it forever in the click of a shutter. The amateur golfer doesn’t think of the money to won on a tour, but plays for the enjoyment of the game. On the other hand, professionals do what they do for the money. They’re paid for their work. There’s nothing inherently wrong in getting paid for doing something. Yet, I think we’d all agree once you start doing something for money, it takes some of the fun out of it.
Preaching is no different. When I work with younger pastors, I tell them Sunday comes every three days. There’s the day after you preach, the day before you preach and then the day you preach. The pressure to come up with a fresh sermon every week can be suffocating.
So to relieve some of the pressure of being creative in our preaching, most of us have come up with a system. A routine of preparation helps us be prepared on Sunday morning, but this routine also can be numbing. We go through the steps of sermon planning without thinking. We’re just doing the next thing on the list. Our sermons get done and for the most part, no one can tell the difference.
Although, we can.
Knowing what the sermon could have been and what the sermon actually was gnaws at our souls. Why? First, most of us dream of preaching as Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” to ignite another great awakening in our nation. When that doesn’t happen, we’re disappointed.
The second reason is more realistic. When we first read a passage of Scripture, we are captivated by truth we know will resonate with our people. We know this sermon will make a difference. It’s similar to finding a glint of gold in the ground that compels us to dig until we have dug all of the riches out of a passage.
Then life happens, with meetings to attend, worship services to plan and hospitals to visit. All of this is good and necessary, but still pulls energy away from the sermon. By the time Sunday morning comes around, we’ve handled the problems, visited who needed to be visited, answered all our email, and now it’s time to preach. So, we’ll preach…that’s our job…and it’s Sunday morning. We’ll preach because it’s the way we make our living and we’re professionals.
We have lost our amateur status. Preaching has become a job, a necessary skill for a success in ministry. I’ve had those Sundays. You have, too. On those Sundays, we preached just a good-enough sermon because it was our job. I hate those Sundays. I’m guessing you do, too.
I remember when I fell in love with preaching. I grew up under the preaching of G.D. Barrett. He preached at the small mill village church I attended in Huntsville, Alabama. Brother Barrett could give a guided tour of hell, and at the end of the sermon your clothes smelled of smoke.
Sometimes he whispered, sometimes he shouted; but he called his congregation in a way we couldn’t refuse. I remember sitting in the pew, thinking it would be the greatest thing in the world to be able to do that. Other preachers also left me weak-kneed and short of breath. If only I could do that…
Working in a church can take the love of preaching away from you. We forget we became preachers “just for the love of it.” We preach because we love the Word and what the Word can do. We love our congregations, so with our words we try to bridge the moment between the Word and our people…and we love what happens in that moment. It’s when God’s Spirit walks across our sentences from the pages of Scripture to the souls of our congregation.
I’m not a professional preacher. I’m an amateur, and I do it simply for the love of it; I’m praying you do, as well.