People often ask me if I’m nervous before I preach a sermon – especially if I’m a guest speaker. I always respond with “yes, but in a good way.” If I’m not a little nervous I obviously don’t fathom the greatness of the responsibility of sharing God’s Word. I hope I’m still a little nervous before my Sunday message 20 years from now.
I heard a story once about a young preacher who went up to the pulpit to preach for the first time in a new church. He strutted up on stage like a proud peacock. After fumbling through a message that he originally thought would change the world, he walked off the stage feeling like the smallest person in the room. A wise old member of the church took him aside after the service and said to him, “If you had walked on to the stage the way you walked off, maybe you could have walked off the stage the way you walked on.” I remember that story every time I approach the pulpit.
There is a fine line, however, between healthy pre-preaching nerves and debilitating jitters that hinder your ability to deliver the message. Here are a few things that help me:
1. Take care of the details
There are always a few details that need attention before you can relax and focus on preaching. Make sure you deal with them. Check your mic, make sure your notes are in order, bookmark the scriptures you’re going to look up in your Bible, etc. I personally have a hereditary small bladder, and nerves only exacerbate this problem. I always go before the service starts, but it’s helpful for me to know which song will be sung last before the sermon starts just in case I need to go one more time. There’s nothing worse than a personal detail like this distracting you while you’re on stage.
Yes, die. Die to yourself as a person. Die to yourself as a preacher. You have to remember that this isn’t about you. It’s about God, primarily. Then it’s about the people he wants you to speak to. Then it’s about you doing your best to honor God while you serve his people. But so often during the last song of the worship set I’m standing there thinking only of myself. Did I prepare well enough? Will my illustrations make sense? Will my jokes land? Is my fly done up? Plus there’s a good chance the enemy is taking this opportunity to remind you of everything you did wrong that week, making you feel unqualified for the responsibility of preaching. The way you die to yourself is by allowing Christ to live in and through you. I do this through a quick prayer that always goes something like this:
“Father, I have nothing to offer except that which you have offered me. I have nothing to say except that which you have said in your word and by your spirit. I have no ability except that with which you have gifted me. I have no wisdom except that of the cross.”
3. Take a moment
It’s a mistake to think that you have to start speaking the moment the microphone is handed over to you. As soon as you start speaking you’re expected to continue for the next 30 minutes, so make sure you’re ready. There’s a good chance your music team is making its way off the stage, kids are leaving the room to go to Sunday school, and people are getting comfortable in their seats. Give them a few moments. Take that time to take a few slow deep breaths, which will help your heart rate go down. Arrange your notes and adjust your pulpit, and do it with controlled deliberate movements. Then…embrace the silence. Make eye contact with someone you love. Scan the audience and smile. Silence will not lose the audience; it will actually make them even more prepared for your first words. If you just grab the mic and start nervously blabbing unprepared words you will definitely say something stupid, and you risk wasting all the sermon prep you worked so hard on that week.
The next part is up to you.