It was Henry Ford who said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” He was conveying a powerful truth: the way we think about ourselves effects the outcomes we see in life. This is never more true than how we think about our preaching.
I want to share with you the four common destructive preaching mindsets that I have seen wreck people’s preaching. What is a preaching mindset? Simply put, it is the story we tell ourselves about our preaching. And that story drives more than we think.
As I share these four mindsets, I am speaking largely to my own experience with a few of these because I’ve been guilty of telling these stories to myself as well. As you read, you may see yourself in some of these, too. Here are the mindsets that every preacher must learn to overcome.
This mindset is particularly destructive because the preacher who thinks this way generally has a host of blind spots in their preaching and leadership. They think they’ve got it all covered and don’t need to get better, but in most cases the opposite is true.
If this is you it may be because you truly think you have heard everything there is to hear about preaching. You’ve been exposed to every book, every course, and every tip and trick. While you have certainly heard a lot, you haven’t really heard everything, and it doesn’t mean that everything you have heard has sunk in and changed you for the better.
Preaching is an endeavor that only works if you remain hungry. You can’t lose your hunger to improve and develop your craft.
One of the most egregious attitudes I see among some preachers is the thought that they can “just wing it” on Sunday. It usually sounds like this: “I’m just better on my feet so I don’t need to prepare.” Or perhaps, “I know some preachers spend time and energy preparing, but I just get up there and it all comes together.” Or sometimes it’s spiritualized: “I don’t really have to study because the Holy Spirit just leads me in the moment.”
Sadly, these statements often stem from arrogance and laziness. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it’s true that arrogance is all over a preacher’s thinking he is the one person who can pull a powerful, life-changing sermon out of the air in the moment. Instead what he often pulls out is a sermon that comes across as scattered and without a purposeful aim. Listeners pick up on this and check out because they realize their time is being a wasted by a preacher who didn’t respect their time enough to prepare.
Laziness comes in because the preacher really just doesn’t want to put in the necessary work to prepare something worthy of the attention of an increasingly uninterested, bored, and disengaged audience. This is also a huge blind spot because those who do this often don’t understand that the stakes are way too high to risk giving an aimless presentation because they did not put in adequate preparation.
Every sermon is a blank canvas to which you can apply certain guidelines to make it come together in a powerful way. But to do this you cannot – cannot – disregard preparing as beneath you or as an unnecessary use of time and energy.
Another mindset that can wreak havoc on your preaching in a different way is the thought that you are terrible as a preacher. The problem with this mindset is that it tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is my relationship with basketball. I feel terrible at basketball, so every time I get on the court to play I’m terrible. I’m not good because the whole time all I can think is, “I’m so bad at this it’s embarrassing. I’m sure these guys are mad they picked me to be on their team.” If this is my mindset, there is almost zero chance I’ll play well. But the times I go out there and think, “It’s okay, I’ll do my best and not stress about it” I tend to play much better.
I think the same is true for preaching. We can all improve and should improve. But when you stand up on Sunday your mindset needs to be, “I’m going to give this all I’ve got and let God do what only he can do.” This results in confidence, or better yet, Godfidence – in what God can do in and through you as a preacher.
Every preacher has felt this way from time to time. And some may feel this way all the time. The aching feeling of not being good enough to preach is common among preachers. It takes on different forms, but preachers often feel a pressure to appear more spiritual than they really are. This pressure leads them to perform in a sense and try to come across as more spiritual than they actually experience.
This leads to a sense of guilt and the feeling of being an imposter. Imposter syndrome, the feeling that you fall way short of the expectations that come with your role, is common among preachers.
This particular mindset is exacerbated by the particular tradition you find yourself in. Pastors in more moralistic traditions may feel like their lives don’t live up to the strict standards they’ve set for others. Preachers in more charismatic and Pentecostal settings may feel deep down that they lack the gifts and abundant faith they call others to display. Those in a more Reformed tradition may feel a sense of intellectual inadequacy because they know the theological muscles they are expected to have and to flex.
Whatever the case, any preacher in any tradition can feel just not good enough. This feeling can seem humble and even spiritual at times. For some it can become the “what a worm I am” mindset, which seems self-deprecating in a holy way to some.
The danger of this mindset is it takes the power and emphasis off God and puts it on ourselves as the arbiters of effectiveness. We think that unless we start to measure up, God will not be able to use our preaching to his ends and for his glory. You cannot and will not realize your greatest preaching potential if you are filling your thoughts with destructive stories about your preaching.
This is an excerpt from my new book, Become a Preaching Ninja, which is set to release in November. The book will guide you through a process of sharpening your skills, honing your craft and maximizing your impact as a preacher. Subscribe to our email list to be the first to know when it releases.
What are some other mindsets that you’ve experienced or seen in other preachers that can have a detrimental effect on your and their ability to preach with boldness and effectiveness?