When the Sermon Ends
Navigating post-preaching highs and lows
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a friend of mine. He’s a pastor, and it was Sunday afternoon. He has been at his church for about six months, maybe a little longer. He is still getting a feel for the place, and the congregants are getting a feel for him.
“I feel like I just got punched in the mouth,” he told me.
He explained that after his sermon on Sunday morning, he had given a response call. Five people raised their hands to receive Christ. After praying with them, he ended the service by asking everyone to pray about finding a place to volunteer.
“A guy came up to me right after service and told me he was done,” my friend stated. “He said I was trying to change too much stuff and asked too much of people.”
I can see how that would upset any pastor. And I know many pastors get similar feedback from time to time. What made it worse was the timing — right after the emotional rush of seeing people accept Jesus as their Savior!
The Highs and Lows of Preaching
I started preaching when just a kid, at 16 years of age. I would get in my car and travel the Oklahoma highways from one church to the next. I loved it! I was over-the-top excited to see God use my words to help other people. And my passion for the Bible and preaching have only grown since that time.
What I didn’t expect, though, was the rush of adrenaline after speaking. As I got in my car after a service to head home, I had to watch myself. Otherwise, I would press down the accelerator and fly past the speed limit. I always felt like I was on top of the world.
Since then, I’ve learned that not all preachers feel that way. One time, while on staff at a church, my pastor had just finished preaching a particularly good sermon, which was not an uncommon event. I caught him before lunch and told him, “You knocked it out of the park!”
He kind of shrugged and said, “Nah, I never hit home runs.”
I thought it might have been false modesty, or perhaps just humility to keep himself in check. So I dug deeper. No, he honestly felt that his sermons were never up to his standards. Instead of a high after preaching, he often felt a lull.
You may be like me — over the moon happy with just about any sermon. Or you may feel subdued, or even morose, after preaching. Either way, the moments right after you preach can be some of the most vulnerable of your ministry. How do you handle them?
Stepping off the Platform
Like my friend, you will probably have a “punched in the mouth” experience after a sermon, if you haven’t already. It could be the result of a disgruntled member who wants to get your ear. It may be because of a less-than-perfect response to your sermon. Whatever the cause, you will likely have times when you feel down.
When you step off that platform, pride can take over or self-doubt can creep in.
On the other hand, those times when you feel great after a sermon can be dangerous as well. Nothing will derail your ministry quicker than an overinflated ego.
Those first steps off the platform can make all the difference. Even though we don’t like to admit it, they can linger with us for days. They can cloud a weekend service full of wins. Or they can blind us to needed changes in preaching or for the church in general.
How do we guard against those highs and lows? First of all, be honest. When you step off that platform, pride can take over or self-doubt can creep in. Which is it for you? What are you more susceptible to? Our personality types usually lean us one way or the other. Personal insight will prepare you to deal with it.
Keeping Your Footing
To take the right steps off the platform, you need to have good balance. Here are a few ways to keep your feet squarely on the ground:
Don’t check social media. It’s tempting to go online right away and see how many of your members mentioned you in a post. And when you see several likes or comments about your sermon, it will definitely pump you up. But the reverse is also true. If you don’t have enough social media imprints, what’s that say about your message? In short, nothing.
It’s much better to gauge the results of a sermon based on real life change rather than any online measures. Stay off social media if you aren’t able to handle the criticism along with the compliments, the lows with the highs.
Toss out the low and high scores. In Olympic events, the judges throw out the high and low scores to determine the real measure of a performance. Preaching is not just a performance, but it does have results. You will always have fans, and you will probably have detractors.
Never listen to the most flattering words, the high scores. And keep the low ones, the worst criticisms, in check as well. That doesn’t mean you deflect compliments or critiques. It means you evaluate them correctly.
Ask a trusted friend. Make sure you have at least one person (whether on staff or not) to whom you can turn for a straight answer. How did you do? What could you improve on? Why didn’t they laugh louder at that joke? When you can trust the feedback, it will always be constructive.
Remember the big picture. Finally, no matter how well or how poorly you did, keep your eyes on the main thing: the mission of your ministry. Why are you preaching? It’s not to feel good. It’s to see lives changed when they intersect with God.
When we place a high priority on the gospel message, our ability to preach is secondary to the Holy Spirit’s ability to reach lives. You might have stumbled through your notes or even forgotten half your illustrations. But if people learned more about Jesus, it was a success no matter what.
Above all else, guard your heart. Find your identity as a minister not in what others say or how they feel, but in pleasing God. If that’s your goal, it’s much easier to step off the platform every week with confidence.