The conclusion of a sermon is a dangerous moment for the preacher. He has just spent 30 to 45 minutes in an expository deluge, dumping his study and zeal upon his congregation. The 10 to 20 hours of sermon preparation are now ancient history, and he’s climbed in his car for the drive home. Most likely he is exhausted—emotionally, spiritually, and physically. If you’re called to preach, you leave it all in the pulpit.
I’ve been there. And over the last 30 years, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about what I should and shouldn’t do following a sermon. Here are are three key lessons:
1. Don’t let down your guard.
Preaching picks a fight with the enemy each week. “It pleased God through the folly of what we preach,” Paul observed, “to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). This means sinners are snatched from “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). God uses preaching as a means to change people—to spring them from the enemy’s dominion.
Satan has an opinion about gospel preaching: it must be stopped. Don’t be naïve in assuming the delivery of the message means your removal from his crosshairs. Message preparation—with its study, meditation, and prayer—has protective benefits. After the sermon, though, you’re typically spent and empty. Which is another way to say you’re vulnerable to an air strike.
Your flesh is hard at work also. Preaching stirs temptation. On one hand is pride over how God is using you, the other hand condemnation over how he isn’t. Then there’s actual message, in which you’ve expended many words knowing that “when words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Prov. 10:19).
Where men preach, flaws abound. If you’ve preached for any amount of time, you know every message has some deficiencies. Those weaknesses get real friendly on Sunday afternoon by knocking on your door for a visit. Don’t open it. They will invade your house, disturb your peace, and color the sermon in your eyes. You’ll feel stupid. Condemned. Like the whole message was ruined.
There is a time and place for everything under the sun. But evaluating your sermon immediately after your sermon will make you hate your sermon.
After preaching, you must prepare yourself for attacks from both the flesh and the devil. Just as soldiers prepare for enemy onslaught, so you must prepare to be attacked.
Before, during, and after attacks, run to the good news of the gospel. Realize preaching is about the power of God’s Word, not your words. There’s no sermon delivery in the history of the world that was so bad it drained God’s Word of its power. The Lord is big enough to allow people to recall his eternal words and forget your stupid ones. Do you really think God’s purpose rests on the quality of your preaching? That’s certainly not what you preach. Sunday afternoon, then, is your time to apply.
After preaching, prepare yourself for attack by remembering that God is bigger than your mistakes.
2. Don’t listen to yourself.
When you are under attack, your soul will be loud. Accusing thoughts will bang on the door of your mind, demanding your attention. Or maybe self-inflating ideas, ones where your self-regard catches flight and you think of yourself “more highly than you ought” (Rom. 12:3). In those moments, you must quiet your soul.
Quiet your soul by trusting the Lord with the results of your sermon. Quiet your soul by fixing your thoughts on God, not your performance. If you feel proud, remember your message is meaningless unless he chooses to make it potent. If you feel condemned, remember his Word does not return void (Isa. 55:11). Your sermon will accomplish exactly what God desires. Fortunately, you can’t thwart his good plans.
Brother, you must ignore the attack you’re experiencing and fix your mind on superior things (Phil. 4:8). The best counsel for a preacher driving away from a church service is: “Be still, and know that [he is] God” (Ps. 46:10). Doing this keeps both critiques and compliments in their rightful place.
Once you’ve entrusted your sermon to God, give your mind a rest. Distract yourself. I need at least two to three hours to regroup after preaching. I spend that time reading, watching TV, or even sleeping. When our kids were younger, I’d often do something with them that diverted attention and replenished energy.
Someone once said preaching a sermon is the equivalent of eight hours of manual labor. I’m not sure it’s true, but I know it feels that way. The point is to tend to your body and soul so that you rebound and get ready for the next message.
3. Don’t fish.
Because preaching stirs both accusation and admiration, you’ll be tempted to go fishing for compliments. You’ll ask leading questions designed to elicit positive feedback—a kind of identity booster. I’ve done it way too many times. Few things are more hollow than a solicited compliment. Except maybe when you’re fishing for a compliment and instead catch a pole-bending critique—a helpful reminder that when you fish you don’t always know what you might snag.
The deeper problem behind fishing expeditions, though, is that we’re too delivery-centered. We want to know how we came across. How it “felt,” as if that were some barometer of what God was actually doing, or will do. We feel the need to prop ourselves up with the approval and praise of others, rather than entrusting ourselves to him.
It’s good to remember that most preachers get more encouragement in a month than other professions get in a decade. Don’t fish. And when a compliment does come, transfer the glory to God.
And for goodness sake, don’t listen to your own podcast. Here’s why: you are hopelessly subjective when it comes to evaluating your sermon. You poured 15 to 20 hours into the preparation, which means objectivity left the room days ago. If you really want help, choose some experienced preachers and trusted congregants who don’t crave your approval, and recruit them to provide constructive feedback. Then thank them for giving it, regardless of what they say.
Charles Spurgeon, arguably the greatest preacher of the past 300 years, once said: “It is a long time since I preached a sermon that I was satisfied with. I scarcely recollect ever having done so.”
And this guy was called “The Prince of Preachers.”
If Spurgeon was unsatisfied with his sermons, it’s safe to say mere mortals like you and I will find ourselves in the same position.
Let’s be ready for those moments.