Throughout this year of home assignment, I have had numerous opportunities to preach and share at churches all around the US. I am not much of a preacher myself, but I am glad to have the opportunity to share about what God is doing and encourage churches to think about and pray for the unreached peoples of the world. But I have noticed a funny thing that happens every time I preach: I feel the worst that I ever feel on Sunday night.
It is a little hard to describe. There is a shade of me questioning how well I preached, wondering if I kept the main thing the main thing. There is pure exhaustion from the effort it takes to teach for an hour, plus the many conversations, often with people I have never met before. There is the tension of leaving church to come home to a family that requires me to be engaged and thoughtful, no matter how tired I am. There is the emotional tug from a concern both for those we have left behind in Cameroon, as well as for the state of the American church. Whatever the cause, on Sunday nights I find myself feeling what can be best described as despair.
I have come to better understand Spurgeon who once wrote,
“I have suffered many times from severe sickness and frightful mental depression seeking almost to despair. Almost every year I’ve been laid aside for a season, for flesh and blood cannot bear the strain, at least such flesh and blood as mine. I believe, however, the affliction was necessary to me and has answered salutary ends.”
I have read many reasons people have given for Spurgeon’s depression, but honestly I think in part it may have been due to the frequency of his preaching. It is said that Spurgeon preached up to ten times a week!
I will cut to the chase: I believe that preaching is more than just a man standing on a stage presenting truth. I have taught classes, done presentations in classes, even defended my master’s thesis and did not feel this exhausted and depressed. I believe that preaching is war. Preaching is exhausting on a spiritual level, not just physical and emotional.
I certainly do not want to communicate that my experience is universal, nor Spurgeon’s. However, I think it is likely that your pastor hits their lowest point each week on Sunday night. Satan is a real enemy and he without a doubt is most active against those on the front lines. So, here are two requests that we can bring before the Lord today, and perhaps every Monday:
1. Pray that your pastor keeps his eyes off himself.
One of the most difficult aspects of preaching is that it is a task that is too large for men. If a pastor has a right view of himself, he knows that he is not worthy to speak for God. In a very real sense, it is like trying to wield a power greater than yourself. There is a reason that James warned us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). Teaching then, is not something that should be taken lightly, and if you pastor is humble, that truth will weigh on him. If it were not for the biblical commands to proclaim God’s Word, preaching would be arrogant, even sacreligous.
But the Bible does command proclamation (2 Timothy 4:2; Matthew 10:27, 24:14; 28:19; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 9:14). So, seeking to be faithful to the Word, your pastor will weekly (and in some cases daily) take on a task that is too great for them. Preaching should then rightly demonstrate to a pastor the depth of their weakness and should therefore rightly humble him. “Proud pastor” should be an oxymoron.
What this could, and I suggest often does, lead to is a deep feeling of depression and despair. Questions no doubt cloud the minds of many pastors weekly, such as: “What if I got it wrong?” or “Did anyone take that the wrong way?” or “Did I miss the point?” or “What were my motives when I said that?” or “How will I be judged for that sermon?” These are not wrong questions, a pastor ought to examine himself and his teaching carefully. But while humility is an appropriate response to the role of a preacher, despair is not.
To such a pastor, I believe that Christ would respond, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God is aware of your pastor’s weakness. He ordained it in fact, as a means to magnify his grace. Pray that as your pastor walks away from Sunday morning feeling inadequate, he would not keep his eyes on himself. Pray that his gaze would turn upward, to Christ. Your pastor’s weakness is real, but is meant as a contrast to Christ’s strength. Pray that in his thoughts and prayers, Christ would be magnified. This ought to lead not to despair, but great hope.
2. Pray that your pastor would experience joy.
In spite of the exhaustion and persistent reminders of weakness, your pastor does not have to end his week or his ministry burnt out. A friend pointed out recently that while we often hear of people leaving the ministry because of “burn out,” I have never heard of a plumber citing burn out as a cause for quitting. Again, I believe this has a lot to do with the fact that ministry has a more significant spiritual aspect than other parts of our life. The more regularly, then, that people are engaged in ministry, the more they are fighting spiritual battles.
Paul knew the weariness of ministry more than any of us, experiencing suffering upon suffering. And yet, after listing his many persecutions in 2 Corinthians 6, he says, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (10). While the more natural reaction to ministry is despair, Paul shows us that it is possible to respond with joy.
There are a few things that can produce joy in your pastor, but sometimes they are just hard to remember Sunday night. Pray that you pastor would remember:
1) The fruit: your pastor, along with his congregation, will fail. He will say stupid things at times, and be wrong. (Just so you know, you pastor probably gets far more complaint emails than letters of gratitude.) However, undoubtedly his ministry is not only characterized by failure. God uses His Word, almost exclusively when preached by a weak vessel. Pray that your pastor would remember the fruit, remember the times that God has used his preaching to convict, convince, change, and save.
2) The future: Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 employed a metaphor for his ministry, as though he was to be the father of the bride. Speaking of the church in Corinth, he said, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2). Should your pastor remain faithful, there is coming a day when he will present you to Christ like a father presents his daughter to her husband. There are few events on earth more characterized by joy than a wedding. As a father that is currently struggling (a lot) with the task of parenting, I can only dream of the joy of one day watching godly daughters marry godly men. Paul, struggling, slandered, bleeding, took hope in a coming day of marital bliss. Pray that your pastor would count the present days of difficulty as light, momentary affliction compared to the glory of that coming day.
I am posting this on a Monday. In my experience pastors tend to take Monday as their day off, and for good reason. Right at this moment, as you are reading, your pastor could be wrestling through some of the same thoughts and emotions that I have mentioned above. Would you take a few moments and pray for them today? Pray that they would take their eyes off of themselves. Pray that they would consider the fruit that God has allowed them to see. Pray they would look to the future day when they will be able to present you to Christ. And pray that they would have a deep and abiding joy that only makes sense to those who have entrusted themselves to the God of the Bible.