Nothing is more exhilarating than preaching! It’s like nothing else to get in front of a group of people, open the Word of God and point people to Jesus. I absolutely love to preach and help other preachers communicate better. But I still get nervous sometimes before I preach. Maybe you do too. A few months ago I was standing next to my wife just before my sermon. She took my hand which was freezing cold, leaned over and whispered, “Are you nervous? Your hand is freezing.” I nodded, “Yep.”
When I get up and start talking I’m completely fine. God calms my nerves, puts me at ease and gives me a confidence that can only come from him. Perhaps the pre-sermon nerves might be a way to keep me dependent upon his Spirit’s power. I am always motivated to pray like crazy before every sermon. There are three things that make me nervous before I preach. Perhaps you can relate to these:
1. I don’t feel adequately prepared. If I didn’t get adequate time to spend preparing to preach I feel it before the sermon (and during). For me this is a spiritual issue – it is my duty to prepare well for every sermon I deliver. There is nothing spiritual about depending on the Holy Spirit to work through me when I didn’t prepare well. That’s like praying for God to help you ace a test you didn’t study for. Your failure to study doesn’t mean God should bless your laziness.
2. The subject matter is going to be difficult for me to preach and for them to hear. When I am going to preach a difficult text or topic, I feel it before the sermon. I have preached many sermons on controversial topics, and I have written an article on 9 Tips for Preaching on Controversial Topics. I don’t shy away from difficult passages or issues. If it needs to be addressed, I will address it. But the pre-sermon nerves tend to increase when I know I’m about to get up and deal with a sensitive issue that I could easily mishandle and cause a big mess.
3. I’m too concerned about what they’ll think of me. Preachers want to be liked. Most people want to be liked. But the pastor profession tends to attract a disproportionate amount of people-people. We like people, we want to be liked by people. So, preaching can become the chance we get to perform for people. We want to do well so our listeners like us and want to hear more of us. One of our biggest fears is to be perceived as boring, un-engaging, irrelevant or dull. So we feel this pressure, and it makes us nervous. When this particular nervousness is strong we tend to preach from a place of pride or fear. I have written extensively on how to avoid this trap in this article.
Maybe you can relate to these causes for pre-sermon nervousness. I want to share what I do to alleviate some nervousness before I preach. Some of these are practical and others are more mindset changes, but they all help.
1. Find a quiet place to review your notes. This is a must for me. Some Sundays I preach three services in a row, but before the first service I need five minutes alone to collect my thoughts and read back through my notes. I have a systematic preparation schedule throughout the week that I wrote about here. But on Sunday morning, within an hour of preaching the sermon, it is always reassuring to look back over the notes just to have one last refresher.
2. Think about your opening words and practice saying them. I’m a firm believer in rehearsing my sermons out loud. I use the voice memo app on my phone to record my sermons on Thursdays for time and content. When I practice how I’m going to say what I’m going to say it makes a huge difference. Knowing exactly what is going to come out of your mouth right when you step up to speak is a great way to rid some of the nerves. Practice saying your opening lines. This will reduce the uncertainty and calm your nerves.
3. Think less about yourself, think more about your listeners. You are not the point. When you are nervous about what people are going to think of you it is a good indication that you are thinking to much about… you. Your sermon is for the benefit of the hearer, not the advancement of your ego. I have benefited from quoting this verse to myself: For am I now seeking the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
Don’t perform for people; serve them. The goal of performance is your recognition. The goal of serving people is God’s glory and their good. Keep your focus on serving your listeners and bringing glory to God.
4. Channel your nervous energy into passion for your content. Nothing is more contagious than passion, and your listeners desperately want to be inspired. Begin to see your nervousness as a gift because it is extra energy to expend during your sermon. Channel it into passion and preach with boldness and energy.
5. Pray like crazy. This is my favorite part of nervousness; It always prompts me to pray. I feel so close to God in those moments before I preach because I feel utterly dependent on his power. I pray for him to do what only he can do – take my flawed, imperfect efforts and change lives by his power.
I’ve written a book that describes in-depth how all of these principles come together. It’s called Preaching Killer Sermons: How to Create and Deliver Messages that Captivate and Inspire. Check it out and discover more ways to sharpen the impact of your messages.
What things make you nervous? What do you do about it?