When Preachers Suffer from Pulpit Anxiety
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.
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!
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.
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!
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?
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!
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!