When I began preaching on a weekly basis I was awe-struck by the astonishing privilege and daunting responsibility of proclaiming the gospel. The high calling to preach seemed to have a sanctifying affect upon my soul. “Get God or get out” was my thinking. I was more reliant upon God throughout the homiletic process than upon my limited abilities. Prayer and fasting guided me as I wrestled with God for insight into the coming Sunday’s text. My need for God was as inescapable as my need for air. Preaching was for me, in the earliest days of my ministry, a spiritual discipline that cultivated a deepening faith in the God whose guiding and anointing I sought intensely. Then, a strange thing happened. The more I preached, the more comfortable I became with my increasing skills. I began to pray less. Sermon development and delivery was reduced from a spiritual discipline to a technical task. What I once viewed as an opportunity to engage and be engaged by God became a task to be completed. This change in perspective eventually diminished for me the joy of preaching and its spiritually formative impact upon me. Homiletic fatigue and symptoms of pastoral burnout surfaced often.
As Wesleyan-Methodists, we believe that the person doing the preaching matters. While God can speak through anyone or anything, including Balaam’s donkey, he tends to speak most profoundly and consistently through preachers who are yielded to and sanctified by the Holy Spirit throughout the homiletic process. A Wesleyan-Methodist sermon preparation process will be infused with spiritual disciplines that foster the preacher’s connection and submission to Christ. Here are a few practices that can help a weary preacher reclaim the joy of preaching as a spiritual discipline.
Commence with Prayer
Before you begin to study the text from which you will preach, pray a small portion of Psalm 119 slowly and reflectively. Ask God for revelation and insight into His word. Quiet your soul by sitting before God and allowing him to remind you of his love for you and the important calling he has placed upon your life to proclaim Christ. Ask God to purify your preaching motives and to spiritually form you to become the “fragrance of Christ” through the homiletic process.
Take a Prayer Walk
Take a walk around the church campus, your neighborhood, a nearby park or some woods looking and praying for God’s glory, for His kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” through the sermon. Prayers that make mountains move often find clear expression when our bodies move. Plus, a short walk gets the blood flowing and the creative homiletic juices with it.
Journal a Prayer
Spend a few moments looking prayerfully through your church directory. Reflect on how the biblical text for the sermon might address the dreams and disappointments, hopes and heartaches, and victories and vices of the people in your congregation. Prayerfully consider how God wants to comfort and/or challenge the church through this text. Then, write a prayer to God that reflects your hopes and his will for the sermon. Pray this prayer throughout the week leading up to the preaching event.
Develop Prayer Teams
Recruit a Pre-Service Prayer Team to pray with the preacher before the worship service. Develop a Preaching Event Prayer Team to pray while you are preaching. Finally, empower a Post-Service Prayer Team to pray with people who respond to the sermon.
Wesleyan-Methodists believe that God does his best work not just through good sermons but through good preachers. Infusing the homiletic process with spiritual disciplines has the potential to develop faithful preachers who preach fruitful sermons. Too many preachers struggle to maintain healthy devotional habits because of the rigors of the preaching life. “I don’t have time for a devotional life when I have all these sermons to write, “ they confess. What if the process of developing and delivering sermons was as devotional as it is rhetorical? For Wesley and the Christ he served, it was!