10 Reasons Preaching Is Scary

Anybody who knows me probably knows I love to preach. I so clearly knew God’s calling many years ago that only disobedience would allow me to ignore preaching today.

To be candid, though, preaching scares me. Here’s why:

  1. I will answer to God for what I say. As a 13 year old, I strongly sensed God’s guiding me, “I want you to preach My Word.” I know God will hold me accountable for every word I say, and He will not ignore any carelessness from my lips (Matt. 12:36-37). Recklessness in preaching is an invitation to judgment.
  2. What I do affects eternity. Here, I am not suggesting that my preaching somehow trumps the sovereignty of God. On the contrary, I am simply aware that God uses the proclamation of His Word to save souls (Rom. 10:9-15). That truth means that preaching really does have an eternal impact.
  3. I may have only one opportunity to speak truth to a hearer. A non-believer (or a believer, for that matter) may sit under my preaching only one time. In the midst of a busy life, he/she may offer listening ears for only a few minutes. I will miss that one-time open door if my preaching wanders from the Word.
  4. It’s easier to talk about “stuff” than it is to teach the Word. Preaching is hard work. From personal exegesis of the text to public proclamation of the message, preachers must dig into the Word, soak in it, be cleansed by it, and then deliver it. It’s just easier to use a few Bible verses as a launching pad to preach about “stuff” than to do the hard work of Bible exposition – and that reality scares me.
  5. At least for a few minutes, everybody is focused on me. Maybe I’m uniquely fallen, but I like the affirmations that come with preaching. For a short while, I am the “man of God” to whom others look for truth. Yes, I want my preaching to direct them to Jesus, but I must be honest with myself: preaching frightens me because it can instead become a means to build my ego.
  6. I can preach in my own strength. I’ve been preaching for 38 years, 33 of those in full-time ministry. I have two graduate degrees from a seminary, and I’ve taught preaching courses. What frightens me is that I can rely on my training, my knowledge, and my experience when I preach – and completely lack the power and blessing of God.
  7. Preaching puts my life under the microscope. Those who listen to my sermons presume my life will validate my words. I preach the Word publicly on Sunday, but they have a right to see obedience and faithfulness in my life every day of the week. In fact, the very Word I preach gives them the lens through which to view my life. That’s humbling . . . and a bit disconcerting.
  8. The devil attacks preachers. The gospel is “God’s power for salvation” (Rom. 1:16, HCSB). Thus, it is not surprising that the enemy aims his arrows at preachers to hinder us from preaching and living out the Word. Our very calling to proclaim the gospel puts the enemy’s bullseye on our back.
  9. Somebody probably won’t like something about the message. It’s too long. Or too short. Not enough Bible. Too much Bible. Too much application, or not enough application. You’re too loud. Or too soft. You don’t preach like my favorite preachers on the Internet. For those of us who can wrongly be perfectionistic and people-pleasing at times, preaching is a risky endeavor.
  10. Somebody will listenSomebody who hears will take the message to heart and follow it. I’ve been in places around the world where hearers take the message and proclaim it almost word-for-word that day to their villages. If somebody is going to listen, I need to approach the Word with seriousness and humility.

For all these reasons, preaching scares me a bit. But here’s what scares me the most: that I will someday approach preaching without the earnestness it demands. I’m well aware that a healthy respect for the task today can become only routine tomorrow.

Please pray that God will give me grace to keep that slide from happening. If you are a preacher, share this post—and invite others to pray for you as well.

34 Comments

  • Number 1 is the biggest reason that any of us need to fear when we teach God’s word. Something that I wonder is whether the description of what we see in 1 Corinthians 14, as far as multiple people sharing a message and then the congregation weighing what they say, would serve to soften the consequences. I mean it is one thing to say, “this is the word of God” and shut the book, and have everyone leave, and another to say, “this is the word of God” and then have someone else stand up and say, “umm I’m pretty sure that you didn’t take into account such and such”, at which point you can say, “oh, now that you mention it, I take that back”. I would assume that there is a lot less to fear in repenting of being a false teacher, than continuing as one.

    I know that this isn’t the model that most of us employ, but I wonder if it might be helpful to integrate into our gatherings.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Dallas. I’ve seen a growing number of young pastors develop a “preaching team” to help them develop their thinking and preparation. Sometimes the team consists of staff, but I’ve also seen some sharp laypersons contribute much to such a team.

  • ACD says:

    I throughly enjoy preaching as well. I especially enjoy tackling tough questions and digging into sometimes complex theological issues because I find it very interesting. Meaning no dsirespect to the old cliche, but I consider everything in the Bible to be essential and it is our responsibility to study, pray, and discern the truth of God’s Word even though we may not fully understand it until we reach eternity. With that said, my fear at times is that those in the congregation will not find those things nearly as interesting as I do.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      True, ACD, but we have the privilege of showing them — in God’s power — how significant the Word of God is.

  • H. B. "Sunny" Mooney, III says:

    Chuck,

    I have dealt with many of these. But my greatest fear is that “they have ears, but do not hear.”

    I truly believe that preachers ought to preach ‘what the Scriptures say.’ So I painfully strive to preach the text with understanding and application rather than personal thoughts or tedious philosophy. I also attempt to take a 2 Timothy 3:16-17 approach when I teach and preach. But what scares me is when some in the audience hear what they want to hear or what is not in the passage’s meaning or message’s proclamation.

    So I often seek feedback from those who say, “That was a good message.” with probing questions to see if they at least received the basic truths in my outline. I sometimes follow up with personal calls, visits and lengthy dialogue with those who may be missing the mark in their hearing.

  • Todd says:

    Good word as usual Dr. Lawless. Number 1 scares me the most. I do not want to ever intentionally speak incorrectly so that the message of the gospel is hindered. I thank you and my other professors at SBTS for investing your time and energy into me.

  • Good words. All believers should read.

    Especially teachers. I got weighed down heavily by the notion that I needed to quit teaching lessons and start teaching the Bible. And only the Bible.

    When I was using “material”, I had to prepare my lesson plan and then extract from it the points that would be conveyed to the members. What they’d leave the class, having soaked up. Then I’d check those points against the scripture to make dead sure they were Bible points, and not just my ideas.

    It’s us folks & people out here that refer to it as “sermons” or “lessons”. The Bible says teach, preach, declare the Word. As in the Bible.

    Amen.

    • ACD says:

      I totaly agree. The times when I have been most effective as a teacher are when I have laid aside the curriculum and simply taught from the Bible.

    • Ken says:

      My BSU director in college used to say a gospel tract is a tool, not a crutch. I have that same outlook regarding Sunday School literature. Much of it is useful, but it’s just a teaching tool and nothing else. The primary aim should always be to teach the Bible.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Bob. I believe there’s a place for curriculum. It simply needs to be curriculum that drives us to the Word.

  • Jon Tillman says:

    Well said! I have struggled with all of these at times, especially 1 and 6. Sometimes while I am preparing a message, I have to step back and examine whether I am relying on my abilities or God’s guidance. Most often, God is gracious enough to let me hit “writer’s block” in those moments so that I am forced to humble myself before Him and seek His direction for each message.

    Love the article! Thanks Dr. Lawless!

  • Mark says:

    Having lectured in seminars and taught university classes, I can tell you that some people’s minds are elsewhere. More information is not better. Lecturing beyond people’s point of saturation is useless.

    Having listened to many sermons, one well made point is better that three poorly made points. Simpler is better than complex. This goes against the scholarly desire to make many points and make them complex to show off. Previous preachers may have been bad and so the next one to get up to speak is automatically presumed bad prior to even speaking.

    Also, you may have three or even five generations in the same room. Hopefully, you have tried to say something that all of them can understand.

  • Hal says:

    Regarding #9: Someone may not like what you preach.

    This is guaranteed if you happen to be a new preacher in a congregation that has only had the warm fuzzy feel good sermons preached to them for a decade and you happen to come along and start preaching some of the uncomfortable stuff like sin and repentance. You talk about a fast way to clear out a church of those that are simply there to be entertained in what they felt to be their country club environment. This happened in our church and we lost approximately 25% of our people overnight.

    The ones that have stayed are loving the fact that they are finally hearing the Gospel being preached again.

    • Mark says:

      I have heard the uncomfortable stuff mentioned in one or two sentences of a homily. The congregation did not shrink immediately thereafter. Dwelling on it for an entire sermon is what is not fun to listen to.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Hal. Always important to preach the gospel!

  • Allen M Rea says:

    I am serving my first church out of seminary, as well as working on my D.Min. I have tried to completely pray the fear away; however, I have come to see it as healthy while in moderation. One thing that has really helped me has been transitioning from detailed outline to manuscript. I no longer leave the church thinking I should have said more or something else. For me it all returns to Paul in 1 Corinthians: “weakness, fear, and much trembling.” Spurgeon supposedly ascended the pulpit reciting on every step: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” I appreciate the transparency of this post. Thank you for writing. Our mandate is clear: PREACH THE WORD.

    • Ken says:

      Writing out a manuscript is a good idea because it forces you to think through your sermon. It also helps you avoid repetition and redundancies. At the same time, I recommend using as few notes as necessary in the pulpit. When I first started preaching, I never thought I’d work up the courage to preach without notes, but that’s how I always preach now. However, I’m not against a preacher taking a few notes into the pulpit if he feels more comfortable having them.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Allen. Blessings on your DMin work!

    • Jon Pickens says:

      I find that when I type out a manuscript, I tend to become locked into that manuscript. It keeps me from being relaxed when I do teach or preach, which is multiple times a week. However, I use a detailed outline, which helps me to be more relaxed and personable while I am teaching. Maybe it’s the difference between a thought for thought version, and a word for word version. 🙂

      • Ken says:

        Precisely. Writing out a manuscript really forces you to think through your sermon. In my case, delivering my sermon without notes forces me to rely more heavily on the Holy Spirit than my notes, and I’ve found that it gives me a greater freedom in delivery. Preaching without notes may not work for everybody, but either way I highly recommend writing out your sermon.

  • Mike Bowen says:

    Don’t forget #11 – The crowd I have to preach doesn’t smile too much and most of them look like they have been baptized in vinegar and been sucking on lemons for the past hour, lol.

  • Steve S. says:

    Since number 11 was already added…

    12. Preaching is scary because it is! My personality type had me destined to be a computer programmer or some other socially removed occupation. But obviously God had other plans for me in the pastorate. I do love people but am often very introverted. Speaking in front of others can just make my stomach turn. Preaching is similar and gut wrenching. I feel somewhat more comfortable after years of preaching. But I’m not sure it ever goes away.

  • Mark Myles says:

    If you don’t mind, I’ll add one of my own…preaching is scary because you never know if its the last one you’ll ever preach. Who knows. God may call you home right after you preach this sermon….people will take what you have to say in those moments as your last words and important words…so what will you say with them? I’ve only been preaching regularly for about 5 years, but all of these thoughts and more come through my mind regularly as I prepare. Thanks!

    • Ken says:

      Someone has wisely said you should preach every sermon as though it were the very first time, as though it could be the best time, and as though it might be the last time!

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