This is the moment the preacher has had on his mind and heart all week. We will assume he has done this for years, and by now he’s got it down to a science and can lead worship, read scripture, offer prayers, preach the Word, inspire the congregation in his sleep.
But not so. This is a huge thing he is attempting.
This man is attempting to speak for God. Not from egomania. Not from an inflated sense of self. Not even because he wants to.
He was chosen. Hand-picked. Called.
Chosen and called and sent.
Sometimes the preacher tries to bolster his confidence as he enters the sanctuary by remembering the caution God gave Jeremiah at his call: Do not be dismayed before their faces, lest I dismay you before them (Jer. 1:17).
God will have no weakling speaking for Him. No coward afraid to be bold, no milquetoast fearing to be strong, no sycophant who cowers before the rich and powerful among the congregation.
Again and again, the Lord told Joshua, Be strong and courageous. That admonition is found in Deuteronomy 31:6-8,23 and Joshua 1:6,9,18. Evidently, Joshua was a lot like us in that some things he had to be told again and again.
All right. Pastor, you’re about to walk into the sanctuary and do what God has told you in the quiet of your study (as well as in the car as you drove, in the neighborhood as you walked, and in bed as you tried but were unable to sleep).
This is the most important hour of your week.
Knowing it could be the most important hour of someone’s life is what intimidates you. God has big plans for this moment. You don’t want to fail Him.
Here are my 12 suggestions for you at this moment, preacher.
1. Keep saying to yourself, “It’s not about me.”
Now, in a sense it is. So much depends on your having sought the Lord in prayer, in having searched the Scripture, and in faithfully prepared all you are about to do. But ultimately, your goal is not to win anyone to yourself.
If people walk out of the service raving about what a great speaker you are, how impressed they were with you, and how that sermon should be repeated throughout the land, you have bombed. The goal is to preach Jesus. He is the Savior, the Redeemer, the Lord, the Master, the Beginning and the End.
2. Relax. Remember to smile.
It’s easy to forget this. After all, you’ve labored hard all week–and possibly for hours this morning–on this sermon, and you are intense about it. Your heart is burdened with the needs of the world, your mind is filled to overflowing with things to remember, and all eyes are on you to deliver God’s message. Smiling at children, hugging old ladies, and making small talk with newcomers is not what you have in mind.
But do it. Dial it back a notch, preacher. Unless you relax a bit, you will begin today’s service by launching the congregation into the deep end of the pool and many will not survive.
3. Remember to worship.
More and more, the preachers I know are sitting on the front row instead of on the platform. That way, they’re not on display and can worship as a participant. At the appropriate times, they will stride to the pulpit to fulfill their role as worship leader.
If you sit on the platform, worshiping can be done, but with a little more difficulty. You sit there wondering if your shoes needed shining, if your hair is combed, and who that is sitting on the third row?
4. When you lead the congregation in prayer, remember two things: this is real prayer, so tell the Lord what you and others truly will be needing this morning, and there are people among the congregation with genuine needs only God can meet.
5. Trust God to do more than you have planned or asked.
In fact, ask Him to do more than you have asked. After all, we are assured, He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).
Never forget the Lord wants this worship service to succeed more than you ever will. His heart’s desire is for those in darkness to be given light, the redeemed to be stirred, and the hurting to be comforted. So, trust Him to do that, even though you know your words alone cannot accomplish any of this.
6. Expect the unexpected; welcome it even.
From what we know of our Creator (our Creative God), He takes no joy in doing the same thing twice. He loves variety, and delights in surprising us. Ask Him to surprise you and the worshipers. Expect Him to do so. And–this should go without saying–don’t be discombobulated when He does.
Not all worship service surprises appear to be heaven-sent at first. Sometimes, it’s a crying baby, a tramp who has ambled in off the street, a light that blows, a sound system that balks, or a visit from the local Christian motorcycle club. Go with it, whatever it is. The unexpected event might be heaven-sent, after all.
7. Do not undermine your effectiveness by constantly second-guessing yourself.
I should have worn that other suit. This tie is all wrong. Where is my other Bible? Oh, there’s Sister Powell and she looks upset. Wonder what I’ve done wrong this time. I knew I should have gotten out of bed and gone to her house Thursday night when she called me all upset over the neighbor’s barking dog.
I should have studied harder. This illustration doesn’t work as well as I had hoped. Wonder if anyone knows I took this outline from Jim Henry’s book. Where is that scripture reference found? Hope I don’t get it wrong.
Whatever made me think I could preach? I’m just not cut out for this kind of stress and anxiety. And irony of ironies, I’m preaching on the peace of God today. What a joke. I know so little of His peace. Help me, Lord.
He will. He’s with you, preacher. So, stop bleeding all over the platform.
8. Do not let yourself be tricked into discarding today’s sermon for a message you feel more comfortable with.
I’ve done it; I’ll bet you have, pastor. And I cannot count the times I’ve heard preachers announce, “Today, the Lord has laid on my heart a different sermon from the one I had planned to preach.”
One has to wonder what goes through the minds of the worshipers when the preacher says that. I’ll tell you what does not go through their minds. They do not think, “Oh, how godly is our pastor, that he receives messages from the Lord like this.”
More likely, they’re thinking either “The Lord must not be able to make up His mind” or “So, the preacher didn’t spend enough time with the Lord in prayer this week. Had he done so, the Lord would have told him what to preach then.”
Stay with the plan, preacher. Trust the Lord. Do not give in to your fears.
9. Do not grade yourself on how well you did today. You are not your master, not your own professor and most definitely not your own grader.
A servant stands or falls to his own master, says Romans 14:4. Since we are not our own master, we are not qualified to judge ourselves.
Trust Him. Do not trust your time in the study, your mastery of the languages, your degrees, or your reputation. None of these change people’s hearts and lives. This is the work of the Spirit. You are only His instrument.
10. Trust Him. You’d be surprised what He can do with nothing.
He inspired a nation with a shepherd boy and a sling. He parted the sea with an old man holding a rod. He fed a crowd with a little boy’s lunch. He inspired millions with a widow’s tiny offering.
He can probably do something with you and me, too. If we are willing to be small enough.
11. When they compliment you at the conclusion of the service, be cool.
This is no time to launch into your faux-humble “all the glory belongs to God” routine. The complimenter did not mean to imply it was the greatest message in the history of the world. They were being nice. So you be nice, too. Say something like, “Thank you,” and let it rest.
12. Resist the temptation to beat yourself up over the poor job you did. See Point 9.
Leave it with the Lord. Go home and have lunch with the family–and be fully present. This is no time to pick the sermon apart, no time to bleed family members for their reactions, and no time to do anything but relax with those you love most and take some nourishment. Then, take a nap.
All is well. After all, you have to do this again next Sunday. Or, even tonight. Oh my.