When Preachers Suffer from Pulpit Anxiety

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Preaching can be a rollercoaster of emotions. Can you relate?

My name’s Jeremy, I’m a young pastor and I get pulpit anxiety.

I have preached roughly 25 sermons in my life, including about 10 at Sojourn East, where I have served as Executive Pastor for just more than a year. As the second-string preacher, I look at the calendar and pick 10-12 Sundays that sound most exciting.

Labor Day weekend? All mine.

New Year’s Day lands on a Sunday? I’m your guy.

The genealogies in Genesis? I name ‘em and claim ‘em like Naaman.

The problem is, I have a love/hate relationship with preaching. Like many other young pastors, I feel called to proclaim God’s Word yet suffer from pulpit anxiety something fierce.

Sitting under Lead/Founding Pastor Daniel Montgomery’s teaching (or any of our lead campus pastors’ teaching) can be both invigorating and discouraging. From what I can tell from weeks when Daniel and I are preaching the same passage, he mountain bikes until Saturday afternoon, when an epiphany hits him on the trails. He doesn’t write it down, but he just bounces it around in his mind, then on Sunday he preaches four almost-perfect sermons.

OK, so it’s not quite that way, but that’s how it seems.

My week looks a little different.

Tuesday.

I’m in my prayer closet (i.e., shared office), marking up commentaries, realizing this is the most important sermon ever. I call my friends and tell them: “You absolutely have to be at Sojourn East on Sunday. I can’t tell you why—just get in town!”

I love preaching!

Wednesday/Thursday.

Now I have to take my slobbery notes and prayers and turn them into a sermon. This is going to be harder than I thought. Maybe Tim Keller preached on this, and I can find his manuscript on someone’s blog.

Nope, dang.

Friday/Saturday.

The sermon is done, but it sucks. In fact, I suck.

My friends in middle school were right: I’m a total failure, and my ears are so big I look like a car coming down the road with both doors open. I can’t believe my wife even loves me. I wonder if I can just call in sick Sunday morning.

I hate preaching!

Sunday morning.

I slept two hours last night, haven’t eaten in 24 hours and now I have nervous diarrhea. Dang, a lot of people are here. The band’s taking stage. OK, Jeremy, get hyped. This is my congregation and my pulpit—I must defend this house! No wait, these things belong to Jesus.

Has anyone seen page 4 of my notes?

Sunday afternoon.

I survived! Thank you, Lord! All praise be to our Triune God, who bends his ear to the cries of the meek and weak-in-pulpit!

Sunday night.

I’m so depressed I could die.

I’ve talked to some folks about my pulpit anxiety, and I usually get one of three responses.

First, some point out my sin—I’m worried what people think and I overestimate my own role in preaching—so they call me to Repent.

Second, some remind me that all young preachers get anxiety, and they encourage me to Relax.

Still others say I’m just nervous because I’m so godly and I take the responsibility of preaching so seriously, and I just need to Rehearse again.

I definitely am full of sin and selfishly want people to say things like, “Oh, that was wonderful” and, “He deserves ‘double honor’ for that sermon.” And most weeks, I also need to Relax and Rehearse (over and over). This is all true and wise stuff.

But does God’s Word have anything to say about the junior varsity preacher’s anxiety? Surely Paul wrote something about this somewhere!

Jeremy Linneman Jeremy Linneman is executive pastor of Sojourn Community Church's East Campus in Louisville, Ky. He and his wife, Jessie, have two young boys.

More from Jeremy Linneman or visit Jeremy at http://twitter.com/jslinneman

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  • Pastor William (Bill) Perkins

    the worst critic in any given situation is oneself ease up and remember we do it all for the glory of our Lord and Savior

  • Larry

    Jeremy, I can say that when I began my ministry, every Sunday was as you describe. I went into the pulpit wondering if I had anything to bring to the congregation. However, after almost 15 years of preaching, I now know that it’s all about holding up Jesus and not worrying so much how effective I think I am. Worry more about what your congregation needs to hear than about how you are doing. Keep your messages close to the Bible and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you prepare and when you step into the pulpit. Pastor Bill is right. We often think the results are our issue, but they’re not. God will work through you if you set your mind on Christ and not so much on yourself. But having said this, I still feel as you do some Sunday evenings, thinking I’ve not been very effective. But get out and about on Monday among your congregation. You’ll find that something you said struck a cord with the ones who needed to hear.

  • jeff

    Jeremy. Ive had the joy of teaching and preaching and teaching about preaching all over the world. For what thats worth I think this is an awesome article regardless of what the predictable self anointed self righteous critics will say. You have described the tension well. Keep on preaching and His strength will be made perfect in your weakness.

  • Stephen

    Jeremy I among other preachers, know, exactly what you mean… Andy Stanley has a book called Communicating for a change in this book he talks about centralizing the message and have one center point.. I recommend that you get this book and allow it to be a tool too help you my friend

  • Hotraman

    Jeremy, nice article. Thanks for sharing with humor and honesty!

  • Peter Kinberger

    Jeremy, one might ask, am I a preacher or am I a teacher? One might say I am nothing. When we realize the truth of our existence and the meaning behind our purpose, we are humbled. In our humility, we expect nothing of others and we pray for the things of God.We learn to converse with God as we study and research him out. We enquire of God entreating Him to help us in our quest for truth.We meditate on all we learn, at long length. We check truth against truth to determine that we have the truth. Whatsoever is truth, is not a lie.When the truth is in us we are forbidden to hide it but we must be wise in how we disseminate the truth that we have discerned.In truth, there is no fear, for if we speak the truth, the Spirit of God is with us and He is our
    comforter.The spirit of error comes from the adversary and if we are not rooted and grounded in truth, the adversary will seek to uproot us.This is the fear one might have.Our determination to
    study truth must take us to deeper depths and deeper meditations.When we see the truth of ourselves, it brings great conviction and personal conviction overrides our fears, for our convictions are well founded in truth. There are many types of convictions, those that lead to absolute determinations are those that are built on solid foundations and the truth is unimpeachable.Armed
    with unimpeachable truth and unbound determinism, fears flee.This is why we are to set our feet on solid ground, then we can set them on higher ground.If God be for you, who can be against you. What you do, you do unto God, not unto man, therefore it is the approval of God that you seek.If called by man to preach and you are not ready, then decline until you have met these standards contained herein.Speaking from conviction comes from deep in the heart, not the mind, for you are to posess that which comes from the mind of God. Your voice is no longer your voice but it is the voice of the Lord.It is not by your will but it is by His will. You are one who is willing to be a vessel of His truth for you have studied to show yourself approved unto God. Out of you comes the rivers of passion that brings life, hope and healing.It brings conviction on the wicked and on the born again alike, for you are not speaking to one, you are speaking to all who have ears to hear.In all that you say that is truth no matter what it concerns, the gospel must and will emerge. Without this there is no reason to preach or teach or carry out any responsibility in the
    name of Yeshua/Jesus. God’s grace be upon you as you read these words and may He recieve honor and glory, for He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Blessings.

    • Reggie

      Peter, I know you were responding to Jeremy, but I thank you! That was awesome. It got me to remember that it is a flux between the highs of our confidence in His truth and the lows of the realization that He has chosen such an inadequate vessel to speak that truth. Is it that He chooses vessels with a higher capacity for humility; through realization of their own inadequate limits, to proclaim that which is supposed to inspire greater humility and surrender in others?

      Maybe, maybe not. I know in my endless days of asking Him “Why me Lord?”, His answer is always a deafening silence; until I proceed with doing what He has put on my heart and seeing the delivered praising and surrendering to Him for their new direction.

      • Peter Kinberger

        Reggie, thank you for your kindness in word. To answer your question, it is not a matter of God selecting those of higher capacity. He is the potter and we are the clay, He will mold us
        into the capacity that serves His needs.If we become worn through age and use, He will reinforce that which is weak or worn.He molds us and fills us as we become dispensers of His
        living water.This goes on for the rest of our days. We can never retire or hope for retirement, as a true minister knows he must serve Him unto the end, when we recieve the crown that
        awaits us for faithful service, regardless of what we might endure.We expound on repentance as we ourselves repent fervently with earnest desire for the many graces of God to become manifest in our lives, that we may be made examples in all things, be they good or be they bad. We pray that bad does not come,but we know in truth that it must come and we must be glad that it comes ,for the testing and tempering of our faith and our virtues, for it shows God how meet we are for His approval.We know that regardless of what our ends
        may be, God will always give us a new beginning and one day that new beginning will be in Heaven.In meekness and humility we wear sackcloth and put on ashes that He may know
        we are clothed and dirtied with sin, that we are surrounded with the same and we plead in all earnesty of heart, that He might cleanse us with His anointing.With each anointing, He tells us to go and sin no more, yet we do and must needs find ourselves back in sackcloth and ashes again, time after time.Day after day as we pursue to do His work that He has given us to do, whether to study, to teach, preach, converse on His behalf or whatever it is that we touch, that is His.He is holy, His words are holy, His use for us is Holy. Holiness requires cleaness and we must stay clean, by His Hand and anointing through our humble beseechings.Self-righteousness is not to be found in us for it decieves and is a lie. One
        mere moment is enough cause for sackcloth and ashes.Therefore, we know it is impossible to stay clean without His anointing.If we are not anointed, who are we to proclaim the
        Gospel, a Holy thing of God.Christ was clean at His birth by virgin and remained clean in a world of sin and even He had to humble Himself before the Father, who kept Him clean and
        freshly anointed, that not a stain should come upon Him until the day of the Cross.If we are to do likewise and be imitators of Him, then we too count it joy for the things that are set before us.There is no fear in joy and as vessels, we are of His making and through humility, He keeps us strong, and He fills us with living water, that all who thirst may drink.Those
        who drink will be healed. Sin is a sickness unto death and only living water can heal the ravages and the terminal destiny of mankind.Therefore be you filled with living water and know in your humility, you are sent to heal.This is how we are called ministers of faith, for we minister unto the complete needs of others, no one must be left unhealed or lacking for
        God provides for all needs, leaving no excuse for anyone to not draw near to Him.And we do these things in the Name above every Name, our Lord, our Master and our Saviour,Yeshua/Jesus, the Son of God who is God. Love and Blessings…….

        • Peter Kinberger

          Reggie, one other consideration. We exchange the sackcloth and ashes for new clothes as we enter into His Heavenly Kingdom, clothes that can be never dirtied or worn out.
          Bless you and Love…..

  • Reggie

    Jeremy, I can’t begin to explain what that article did for me…….

    After I read this, God led me to Jeremiah 20:7-18 and I began to see a similar type of roller coaster. He starts with feeling tricked by God for the persecution he endures for his obedience to Him. Then he moves to an utterly futile decision to quit speaking His word; only to find that this word has become a living appendage of himself and it cannot be shut down or ignored by him. Then he moves to the jubilant realization that God is with him throughout all of it; taking witness and note of all those who reject him and the Lord. Then in verse 13, he has a moment of praise to God; coming from his seeing through the fog to the reason for his suffering – the deliverance of life of the poor from the hand of evildoers.

    Then the pressure of the roller coaster overtakes him yet again and he curses his own life for what he has to endure.

    You, or should I say we, are not alone. And He makes certain that we never will be.

    Thank you and God bless!

  • Arpan

    Bro, You are not alone. I can totally identify with you. I go through the same experience and feelings.

  • Gustave Malcom

    Every preacher goes through periods like that. You are not alone brother. Let’s pray for one another irrespective of where we are, America, Africa Europe, etc, for Chrrist to use us preach His message to a sick world.

  • Margaret Nahmias

    I have suffered from Anxiety, so I understand. You have to identify what makes you nervous is it the preparation of actual delivery of the sermon. I think Christians misuse 2 Timothy 1;7

  • http://Firespeaks.blogspot.com/ Troy FireSpeaks Pearsall

    Great Article!, I think I may suffer the same as you do, no sleep sometimes the night before, a lot of questioning myself, theology, doctrine and anything else I can think of. An older pastor told me its because of my desire to give an true world.
    I’ve learned that its not suffering I’m feeling, its the honor that comes when an unworthy man is chosen by God to give his word.

  • Sean Spoelstra

    Jeremy, It’s been 17 yrs. of 2-4 Sunday morning BM’s for me with no end in sight. Preaching/teaching is the most difficult privilege of my life…well next to parenting four children that is:-)

  • PREACHERMAN

    Please allow me to say first of all although i have been preaching over 20 years and served as senior pastor of four churches two of which i organized. I can totally relate to the way you feel. That’s TOTALLY NATURAL!!!! Now it is when you no longer have those feelings that your in TROUBLE!!! WHICH DO YOU SEEK AFTER THE APPLAUSE OF MAN OR THE APPROVAL OF GOD!!! Some times the crowd does not respond the way we think they should but those are the times when we’ve made the BIGGEST IMPACT!!!! The people are sitting and pondering and God is STANDING APPLAUDING SAYING” THIS IS MY BELOVED SON IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED”!!!!!!!!!! You just continue to be the best you that you can be!!! WILL U B A CHEAP COPY OR A PRICELESS ORIGINALLLLL!!!!!!!!

  • Joe McKeever

    The only way through this, Jeremy, is to keep plowing ahead. Good article, friend.

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