A bit on preaching for weary pastors

It was easy for me, during my ministry of Bible college and seminary teaching, to lament the sad state of preaching in our evangelical churches. I had few parish duties then except to represent the college in various places or to preach yearly at conferences and camp meetings.

I was among the best of the armchair strategists. Much like a teenager watching the Stanley Cup finals, who knows what the players should have done and what he have would have done, I had a similar opinion of myself.

At the start of doctoral studies at Acadia University, the supervisor, looking over my transcripts, said, "Garry, you have never done a practical course in your whole careerI" Dr. Andrew McRae then set me a list of 36 books to read on preaching and gave me a year to write a paper on "Principles, Practice, and Problems of Expository Preaching."

The year-long study mellowed me quite a bit! I returned to the pastorate more than a decade ago and now have the joyful and awe-inspiring task of preaching weekly. While I still lament the sad state of preaching, I hear the loud echos of my past laments against the present noise of my meager efforts.

Preaching is not easy, if one takes it seriously. While Google makes research inexpensive, instant, and less intense, the temptation is ever present to skimp on the preparation and pass off another's words as one's own.

I milk a lot of cows, but I try to make my own butter and cheese. So I tend to rebel against total dependency on technology and do it the old school way, reading much, praying long, and thinking aloud.

My sermons arise out of my devotional life of Scripture meditation and prayer. I think in ink. An antique fountain pen records my initial thoughts on leather covered notebooks. I do not compose on the screen even though I have all the toys: Desktop iMac, iPad Pro, iPhone, etc.

Half of my week is engaged with the text, often in the wee hours of the morning. And, yes, I use a full script as a general rule. However, I am not bound slavishly to it. The moments of delivery carry its own dynamic. One must guard against random ad lib and one must remain open to the Spirit.

Coming out of the pulpit is always a battle. I recall things I should have said and what I should have omitted. The enemy is at his worst in those moments and I am, post-sermon, at my most vulnerable to discouragement and despondency.

About that I can only say two things. First, I would not preach at all except I am compelled by a sense of calling. It's like Jesus wants me at it and he will not change his mind. Second, I depend much on the prayers of our people. I am not a big jug and the people little mugs. Some of my hearers are competent preachers themselves. They have been serving the Lord just as long. It is an exercise in humility for them to listen. But, with their prayers and patience I can do it.

I don't seek to be a fabulous or famous preacher, just a faithful pastor, God being my helper.

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About the author


ChristianWeek Columnist

Dr. Garry E. Milley is an ordained PAOC minister, author, and speaker.