The Fatigue of Preaching

There are two draining aspects of preaching—preparing the sermon, and delivering it.

Unfortunately, I’ve always prepared my messages (the morning messages at least) in the most laborious and exhausting way possible, by scripting them out. After pouring over the text or subject as thoroughly as time will allow, I develop an outline, craft an introduction, and begin hammering out the message. I have to keep it at about 3,000 printed words, which, for me, means a half-hour sermon.

Then I read and re-read it, making corrections, additions, and deletions. If I have time, I like to re-write it several times, but I usually have to go with an early draft. Then comes the process of hammering into my head. This involves going through it with a highlighter, creating a mental outline or sequence of thoughts, reviewing the illustrations to make sure I have the details right, and practicing it. I want to use as few notes as possible, so the message has to be etched deeply enough into my mental grooves so that I don’t forget the material.

There is also the all-important work of spiritual preparation. It’s not enough just to prepare my sermon; I have to prepare my heart to preach it. Just as an orchestra tunes up before a concert, it isn’t enough for me just to know the “music.” I have to make sure that my heart is in the right key.

The very process of delivering a sermon is draining, too, especially when one preaches three times every Sunday. Jesus once said that He felt “virtue” flow out of Him. I don’t have as much “virtue” as He did, and mine is depleted much faster.

Back in the 1970s when I was working in the Billy Graham Crusades, I often heard Mr. Graham talk about how utterly exhausted he was after preaching a single sermon. He was much younger back then, and in very good health. Once, after he had given the invitation, I was standing at the top of the stairs on the back of the platform, and as he left the platform he looked up, tried to smile and to shake my hand. He was trembling and seemed on the verge of collapse. Aides helped him down the steps and into a vehicle. Only moments before during his sermon he had seemed like the most powerful man on earth, preaching with great authority. Now he seemed almost like an invalid. At the time I didn’t understand; now I do.

I don’t preach in great stadiums; but I do have to have one or two or three new sermons every week. Each one is like writing a term paper, and each presentation is like opening night, over and over and over, week after week.

I wouldn’t change it for anything, and I love what I’m doing. The Lord has given TDF a great staff that oversees the other aspects of our ministries. But I’ve never found a way to preach without fatigue, nor do I want to. It’s impossible to be refreshing to others without feeling “virtue” go out of you in the process.