I have been ordained now for 23 years, but regularly preaching or speaking for longer than that. Despite having fantastic teachers at College, I have always struggled with appropriately and properly preparing sermons. Therefore, preaching becomes stressful. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. Sundays come and Sundays go with regular rhythm and to keep on facing 'let’s start again on another one' is a daunting task.
Why do I find it hard to start sermon preparation early, which would in theory, make it less stressful? I can’t answer that.
Well ... ok, I can answer that ...
- I’m lazy! (let’s be honest here)
- I get distracted with other urgent and important things
- And here’s the clincher ... I actually work best under pressure, so the less time I give myself the better I focus, and often the better product results. (I say that reservedly as I can’t really assess my own preaching).
But knowing that I work better under pressure, I reckon what really goes on in my subconscious is a purposeful pushing out of time to the last minute. Eek. The truth hurts.
I have been working in team ministry with my husband, Chris, for all our married life. We love it. We are grateful that our gifts complement one another. God is good. Some of this ministry was as a clergy wife before I was ordained, but having met at College we both knew and had responded to the call to full-time ministry. That was a long time ago, and we are now at retirement age. And that’s the other clincher for me. You see, we’re not yet retired as we had planned to be.
God gave us another assignment to fulfil until the bitter end - the magic ’70’ when clergy are called into official retirement. Our plan for retirement had been a long-held one. We knew the year it would be. That year has well and truly been and gone. And when I dig down deep (probably not all that deep really) I find there is resentment towards the 'not-yet-retired' fact. Eek. The truth hurts. Resentment to being in ministry!! How is that even a thing?
And so the preparation for preaching now feels even more pressured, because I know how long it has been since I’ve seen my kids and my grandkids. I know they are wanting more of me and I am certainly wanting to give them more of my time. But that is delayed, hindered.
I don’t think many people in the pews realise how much time is taken up in the preparation needed to preach a sermon, not just to write it, but also the preparation to actually preach it. It takes a lot of time to get nuance right, to get words right, to get delivery right. It is a significant chunk of our week. And there is no doubt it takes a toll on a preacher.
When we accepted this additional assignment from God, it was to the beautiful parish of Noosa. What’s not to love? Truth is, it makes any 'resentment' even more strange and untenable.
Interestingly though, during the nomination and discernment process to be here, we kept on hearing "we have a great history of excellent biblical preaching and we want and expect that to continue".
No pressure! But pressure it was. We had to perform, we were expected to perform, to a high standard, and 'produce' every week.
As someone who is Christocentric and Bible based there has always been a high understanding of preaching and an innate desire and call on myself to preach faithfully and as well as I could, so there was no real surprise that an evangelical parish would also want that from their preacher/s. Without wanting to sound pretentious, perhaps our previous parishes got reasonable preaching as a bonus, rather than it being a demanded expectation.
But here it was clearly an expectation and therefore brought increased pressure.
No wonder this inner self wanted 'out'. I don’t like this! Stop the pulpit, I want to get off!
But .... I’m still here. Still regularly preaching. I haven’t gotten off.
So why am I still here, and why haven’t I gotten off? Put simply, it’s because I know that I have been called. Even from my teenage years, I knew.
I still don’t get on to it early enough. I feel the pressure, but I also seek renewal in the Holy Spirit, and to my constant surprise, when I stand up at that pulpit I don’t want to be at, I want to be there. I love to be there. And people say 'thank you'.
And I say 'thank you' to my beautiful and faithful God who constantly amazes me by, somehow, using me. I don’t understand it. But I love it.
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14
Paul says to Timothy: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Tim 3:16 - 4:2
Lynda Johnson is Associate Priest at Noosa in the Diocese of Brisbane. She has been Chair of EFAC Qld for the past 12 years, and is a Vice President of EFAC Australia.