How to Preach When You're Just Not Feeling It

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Exhausted businessman

We’ve all had those great Sundays where we feel eager to greet the congregation with love in our heart and a sermon in hand that we know will be a winner.

And then we’ve had those other kinds of Sundays. The ones when where it takes a huge amount of energy just to force ourselves to pull into the church parking lot, much less to climb into the pulpit with a smile on our face.

It would be great if we felt eager and excited to preach every Sunday, but the reality is that we’re human. Everyone who preaches on a regular basis knows the feeling of a Sunday (or a streak of Sundays!) when you’re just not feeling it.

So what do you do on those Sundays when a cup of church coffee just isn’t enough to fix the sluggish state your soul?

Here are four steps to get you through a tough Sunday:

1. Disconnect
2. Reconnect
3. Fake It
4. Check Yourself

1. Disconnect

Sometimes the best thing to do is to disconnect from the things that are making you dread Sunday, the things that seem to hang over you like a dark cloud when you walk into the church.

To make it through a rough Sunday morning you may need to mentally set aside the conflict with the trustees, the cost of a new HVAC system, or the fight you had with your spouse before you left the house that morning. Compartmentalizing, while it’s not a good practice for the long-term, can be a positive short-term coping mechanism.

Try This: Find a doorway you walk through on Sunday mornings – maybe the one through which you enter the church or the one into the sanctuary – and tell yourself that all of those issues will stay outside the door this Sunday. Stop in that doorway and say a prayer that God will hold all of those things while you focus your heart and mind on worship. The issues that are weighing you down will be there when worship is done, and perhaps worship will have a way of resolving something in you, even if the issues themselves are still present.

Another thing that you may need to disconnect from are the screens in your life. Screens have become a common means of escape and instant gratification in our daily practice. I don’t know about you, but when I’m feeling stressed or anxious I sometimes try to avoid those feelings by sticking my nose in my smart phone. An endless stream of Facebook, news media, or emails can keep me occupied when I don’t want to think about the things I’m worried about. The problem is that when we look up again we are not only still stressed, now we feel disconnected from the reality of the real world around us, the one with faces, calls to worship, and pastoral needs.

Try This: Commit to making your Sunday (and even Saturday) a screen-free zone. Put your cellphone in your desk (or your pocket if needed) and focus instead on what (and who) is right in front of you. Use the time you would spend scrolling looking through a membership or attendance list or a church directory. Pray over the people who will be coming to church. Or take a look at that last paragraph of your sermon and think about ways to really connect and look into the congregation’s eyes during your parting words.

2. Reconnect

Now that you’re not focusing on your worries or your screens on Sunday morning, take time to stop and pray.

Try this: If possible, try to get there early on Sunday. Feeling rushed often contributes to our feelings of anxiety and stress on Sunday mornings. Walk around and pray over your sanctuary. Stop at the places where you know the people sit (We all have our preferred seating!) Pray over your people. Walk around and touch the doors people will enter, your pulpit, the musical instruments and even the sound board (While some say the devil is in the details I’ve often found it’s in the technology.) Pray over the lines in the bulletin. Get your head in the game. If your congregants who are there early start to interrupt, explain your practice and invite them to join in.

Athletes spend time meditating and centering themselves before a game. This is your chance. For the small acts that you perform to get the church ready (making coffee, opening doors, turning on the air or heat) make these prayer stations as well.

Find a meaningful place to kneel and pray. This will mean having your sermon and announcements ready before Sunday morning, but the time you’ll be able to spend reconnecting is worth it.

3. Fake It

If you’re not getting the warm fuzzy feelings for your sermon or your congregation, sometimes the best thing you can do is “act as if.”
I once heard Andy Stanley say that one of the best questions leaders can ask is: “What would a great leader do? “ I thought to myself: So even Andy Stanley is just imitating someone else? This confirmed my suspicions that we’re all just faking it!

The truth is that the pastoral presence our congregations need isn’t always found in our feelings, but in our actions. You can be pastoral when you don’t feel pastoral.

I once went into a very difficult meeting where I had to face someone who had yelled in my face just the day before. I had no idea what an honest interaction with them would look like, so I imagined a former senior pastor who I had witnessed being both vulnerable and strong and tried to picture what he would do in the situation. When I put on my game face for the meeting I was putting on his face.

Try This: Imagine someone who has been pastoral for you. Can you imitate their voice, their look, their faith? John Wesley said: “Preach faith until you have it. Then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”

Faking it can also mean preaching to an imaginary congregation.

Try This: If you’re not feeling the depth of the words you’re preaching to the people in the room, imagine someone you know and care about who is hurting, struggling, or who needs Jesus in their life. I have a family member in a far-off city who I pray for. I often pray for a Christian to speak hope to them and a pastor to minister to them. I wonder if someone is praying the same thing for a member of my congregation? Maybe I can be an answer to that prayer.

4. Check Yourself

Maybe it’s not just one Sunday that you are feeling less than enthusiastic about Sunday mornings. We all go through seasons when we feel burned out and struggle to connect with our role as pastor and preacher to God’s people.

Try This: If this is the case may I suggest taking some breathing room to assess what’s happening in your soul? Take a Sunday off, go on a silent retreat, talk to a mentor, or go on vacation. Taking time for self-evaluation and self-care can mean the difference between going through the motions and truly loving what you do.

If you’re feeling disconnected from your congregation perhaps it’s time to seek out some one-on-one time with them. Instead of seeing them just in meetings or worship services, make time to meet with some of the spiritually healthy members of your congregation and ask: How are you doing? How is it with your soul? Their answers and the conversation that follows may help you to reconnect in person and in the pulpit to the reason God has you where you are. This may be the time to fall in love all over again with the one who has called you and those He has called you to serve.

Image attribution: White / Thinkstock

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Jessica LaGrone is the Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. A native of Texas, Jessica is an ordained pastor in the Texas Annual Conference at the United Methodist Church and previously served for nine years at The Woodlands United Methodist Church near Houston, Texas.

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