By Matt Henslee
I preach verse by verse through books of the Bible. On the one hand, this keeps me from the temptation of cherry-picking my favorite texts each Sunday. But on the other hand, it means I may have to preach not-so-favorite texts.
In fact, one of our members recently grabbed me after the service and said, “I can’t wait to see how you handle next week’s text!”
Thankfully, I pastor a church hungry for the Word of God. Because of this, I know they’ll know if I decide to “mail it in” or skip a text altogether because, well, they know what’s coming next.
Sometimes, what comes next is what I had last week—one of my favorite texts in the Bible, 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I was pumped! I had a blast preaching it.
Other times, what comes next is what I had a few weeks ago—2 Timothy 3:1-9. There’s nothing wrong with the text, of course, but I fell flat.
Our attendance was low because of several factors. And I felt discombobulated in the pulpit and disconnected in my preaching.
I squeaked out a single, not a home run.
And I talked about it on Twitter:
“Preached a hard (for me) text, 2 Timothy 3:1-9. Felt flat, discombobulated, and disconnected. Bummed by the lighter-than-usual crowd. Mind wandered from ‘tyranny of the trivial’ stuff before the sermon. Tried to make much of Jesus. Didn’t hit a home run; probably more of a single. Took a nap.”
I learned many other preachers were in a slump, too. Here were some replies:
“I felt like I popped out to second this morning.”
“I coughed off and on for a good six minutes and got the ‘you’re going to kill us’ looks.”
But then came this reminder from Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, one of my dear friends and a systematic theology professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:
“I always found as a young pastor that when I felt weakest, He moved strongest. The power is in the Word, brother. Be faithful. He will be.”
I took a nap, woke up, and headed back to church for our evening service where I preached Psalm 70.
And that’s when it hit me: You’re not your last sermon, whether it was a single, a sacrifice fly, or even a home run.
No, we’re called to a long obedience in the same direction, as the Eugene Peterson book reminds us. In other words, did you feel like you barely squeaked out a single on Sunday? Did you hit a home run? Regardless, you’ll enter the batter’s box again this Sunday.
As you grab your bat, etch this deep into the wood (and into your heart):
So my word that comes from my mouth
will not return to me empty,
but it will accomplish what I please
and will prosper in what I send it to do” (Isaiah 55:11).
And remember this, too, from another respondent to my tweet:
“The mark of a great sermon is not when the people say, ‘what a great sermon’ or ‘what a great preacher,’ but ‘what a great God.’ You never know how the things you say will affect a person—even that seemingly nobody in the back row just looking for some kind of hope. That was me once.”
The takeaway here: Stay faithful and advance the runners.
MATT HENSLEE (@mhenslee) is managing editor of Lifeway Pastors and coauthor of the book Replanting Rural Churches. He is the husband of Rebecca, father of four princesses, and pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico.