He waited for me to pause from reviewing my sermon manuscript before the service began. As soon as he saw an opening, he asked, “Do you still get nervous before you preach?”
I answered him emphatically with one word: “Absolutely!”
He was genuinely shocked by my answer. You would assume those who have preached for a long time or who preach regularly eventually get to a place where they are no longer nervous about preaching. Yet even skilled, prepared and experienced preachers get nervous at preaching time. If they do not, they should.
Maybe the most accurate answer to my preaching brother’s question would have been, “Yes and no.”
An unprepared preacher went to the pulpit, asking the Lord to speak to him. As he stood to preach, the Lord spoke to him and said, “You should have studied!” After hearing that story, I determined I don’t want the Lord to speak to me in the pulpit. I want to make sure we are on the same page before I stand to preach.
A prepared and prayerful preacher can stand to preach with confidence. Of course, the preacher should not be prideful, as if he has mastered scripture, is about to deliver the world’s greatest sermon or can determine the outcome of the message. But if you have done your homework on the text, wrote yourself clear and covered the message in believing prayer, you can and should go to the pulpit with confidence.
No matter how well I have prepared, I cannot escape the reality that the sermon is doomed to fail if the Lord does not help me. It creates a healthy sense of nervousness, even neediness, as I approach the preaching moment. This is one of the reasons why I typically pray publicly before I start the message. I usually cannot shake my pre-sermon anxieties until I have offered the prayer.
Beyond the message itself, the preacher should feel the weight of his duty and privilege to preach the word of God. Christian preaching is not a “talk” given to an audience. It is a call to salvation from the only lifeboat to shipwrecked passengers in troubled waters. We are not “life-coaches” offering people good advice, helpful hints or motivational speeches. We are heralds on assignment to declare the message of the King. This divine charge should make you nervous to speak the word faithfully, clearly and unapologetically.
As one of my father’s associate ministers prepared to preach, he confessed he was very nervous. “Good,” was my dad’s reply. “And when you stop getting nervous before you preach, you should stop preaching.”