Preachers are wonderful people. Just as no one can understand, say, a teacher’s life more than a fellow teacher, so no one can understand the life of a preacher like a fellow preacher. Since I have the blessing of knowing literally hundreds of preachers, I am constantly amazed by my preaching brethren, and so many give me a great example of ways in which I need to improve.
However, most preachers live a life that is fairly unsupervised (at least by other humans; God knows all, and we need to keep that in mind). It takes intrinsic motivation to stay focused in the work of preaching week in and week out. Too often, laziness can set in, maybe when discouragement is part of the preacher’s life, or maybe when we are simply facing the temptation to be lazy.
When laziness sets in, there are some pitfalls that will accompany preaching. I want to share five, and hope others will add more in the comments.
1. Saturday Night Specials. I’ve said on Twitter before, “Saturday night specials usually aren’t.” Preachers can feel as if they know enough to get away with just throwing some verses together late in the week and then relying on their natural ability to get through 30 minutes on Sunday morning. Every preacher has had to put together a sermon late in the week due to unforeseen circumstances a few times. If this is what you are constantly doing, however, it could be that you are avoiding the work of study, and that could be a sign of nothing more than laziness.
2. Reading Only From Authors With Whom You Agree. We all have a handful of trusted sources that we consult on a regular basis (and we should). However, preachers need to do the hard mental work of reading from writers with whom we do not agree (and I would suggest we need to do it often). It forces us to think through our beliefs and to strive to see how certain scholars arrive at their beliefs.
3. Only Using Personal Illustrations. There are many areas in the pulpit in which I need to improve, and illustrating sermons is right at the top of the list. That said, if every illustration a preacher uses is about himself or his family, that’s lazy. It shows he isn’t looking to other parts of the world (literature, history, sports, nature, etc.) for ways to make a text or topic come alive. His mind needs to be constantly looking for ways to help illuminate the text of God’s Word instead of just sharing stuff from the life of himself or his kids.
[Bonus tip for preachers: if every illustration you make is personal, it can come across as arrogance, especially over time. While you may not think of it that way, and you certainly don’t mean it that way, do you like to hear people talk about themselves all the time?]
4. “Borrowing” Sermons More Than Preparing Your Own. It is fine to borrow sermons at times (so long as you receive permission or give credit). We all have heard a sermon or lecture that helped us and made us think, “The people where I preach need to hear that.” That’s fine! But if you are always just using the outlines of other people, you are shortchanging not only the congregation, but yourself.
5. Relegating Your Ministry to the Office. Should you spend time in the office in deep study? If you don’t know the answer to that question after reading this far into the article, I don’t know what to say. Of course, we do! But, it is easy to just sit behind a desk doing “something” instead of balancing our day or week with time visiting the sick, the erring, the lost, and doing other works that help the congregation grow and be encouraged. For most of us, sitting and reading/studying is easier, because there is no danger of confrontation or getting our schedule thrown off. However, a preacher who is working will get out of the office either daily or at least regularly throughout the week, because he is constantly looking for more ways to “fulfill [his] ministry.”
As I conclude this article, let me say that I have struggled (and still do) with all of these. This is an article for me first, but I hope it helps each of us who preaches to do all we can in the work of the Lord.
QUESTION: What would you add? Share in the comments some of the temptations that accompany laziness in the life of a preacher.
Photo background credit: Susana Fernandez on Creative Commons