This article is part of the Dear Pastor series.
Q. What is the good news for struggling preachers?
A. The gospel is true and always for us, especially on Mondays.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.—2 Corinthians 4:7
Grace and Adrenaline
Monday is the preacher’s dog day. Ask any of us. In the cold light of day we see just how far short we fell from what we wanted and hoped for. After Sunday’s giving of ourselves, now we just want to disappear, weary and (often) fretful. We feel spent—and we are.
We’re spent because preaching is totally consuming. It is a delight, but it also brings great danger. Most preachers love their calling. It is a great joy, as well as a daunting responsibility. Many of us who are pastors don’t want to think of a retirement without preaching. Nor is that necessarily a cause for concern: for a preacher to delight in his ministry needn’t mean that it is his self-justification. The best preachers will happily listen to others in the pulpit. They don’t need to preach, in the sense that they’re justified by preaching. It’s just that preaching is the consuming desire of their lives.
People in evangelical churches occasionally catch glimpses of the work and the cost of preaching, and they’re almost always surprised and often shocked. “It takes you how long to prepare your sermons?” Ask a promising younger man in church if he would consider preaching his first sermon, and his breezy confidence is soon exchanged for a careworn, weight-of-the-world expression as the appointed Sunday comes into view. I know men who’ve held high-pressure jobs in big business and are now in full-time preaching ministry. They tell me how the responsibilities of handling God’s Word bring a unique strain, week in and week out. Perhaps no one realizes what a heavy responsibility the preacher’s task is except the man in the pulpit.
My Sundays now are fueled by two things—grace and adrenaline. I wake early on a Sunday with that churning feeling of why couldn’t I be a postman or a marine biologist or just about anything else? I get to my study early to pray and work through my notes. I preach at church just as well as I’m able to, grace allowing. If I preach again in the evening, I’m frequently left on a high, relieved at the close of another Lord’s Day, so grateful for the privilege, cheered by signs of engagement from my hearers, and (usually) eager to start the work of prep all over again for next week.
There’s a famous old slogan we preachers love. The American pastor Phillips Brooks famously said, “If any man be called to preach, don’t stoop to be a king.” I love these words, because I know how they affirm the preacher’s task. I passionately believe that preaching is the highest and best calling this side of glory.
A Monday Reminder for the Weak
So what about our Mondays? Some preachers (and the books they read on preaching) just want to dismiss our Monday collapses. The reasoning goes like this: You’re tired. The Devil’s having a go at you. You need to rest anyway. Forget about it and move on. They’re right, in part. The preacher draws on huge reserves of mental energy. Adrenaline surges round the brain and the body before, during, and after preaching. Leaving the pulpit and interacting with those who’ve heard the sermon puts further demands on the preacher. We stand in a daze as we try to have conversation over a coffee. Our minds are still churning. We’re either elated if we feel we’ve done a good job or deflated if we feel we’ve mucked it up. Either way, we’re coming down from the demands of preaching. Monday is where we finally land, and it’s usually not pretty.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that he wouldn’t cross the street to hear his own preaching. Eric Alexander confessed that his first impulse when out of the pulpit was to say, “Lord, I am sorry.”1
Some of us want to run away from the memory of Sunday’s ministry as fast as we can, loudly apologizing for it as we do.
He was broken for us. Even for preachers. He has all the grace we need.
And yet, let’s not be too quick to put our post-sermon crash completely down to the flatlining of adrenaline and mental exhaustion. Maybe our moody Mondays tell us more than just how exhausting preaching can be. Could our moods and low spirit be the reminders of what we need to remember most, that we are always weak and sinful people in constant need of a Savior? Perhaps we feel so low on Mondays precisely because we are low. Mondays have lessons of grace to teach us.
We need the Monday gospel. Left to ourselves, we are all without hope. Sin and misery are the cycles of our lives. Sin and misery would be the course of our lives as preachers, too. We live in a broken world, and though we often try to deny it, we are broken people. Our commission to preach is a call to see that brokenness up close, in our lives and in the lives of our hearers.
But the gospel sings out the message of hope to us. There is a Redeemer. Christ has come for God’s chosen ones in the fullness of saving grace. He lives, he saves, and he loves his people. For us he endured the thistles and thorns of a sin-torn world. All of our foolish efforts at being independent of God were heaped upon his head at the cross. He was broken for us. Even for preachers. He has all the grace we need.
Preachers need to pause here and do a little reflecting. Listen to your Monday moods. Don’t be too quick to write off post-sermon lowness as just mental and physical exhaustion. Exhausted you probably are; but you are also a sinner. Did your preaching remind you that despite your best cover-up attempts, you’re simply a sinner in need of grace? If so, that is a great discovery. The truth is that the congregation knew it all along. And they still love you. Now that you’ve remembered it, marvel at their love, and marvel at the love of God in Jesus Christ all the more. He came, labored, died, rose, ascended, and is interceding for preachers like you.
- Cited in Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work
This article is adapted from The Preacher's Catechism by Lewis Allen.
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