4 Healthy Habits for Vacationing Preachers

Preachers have a notoriously hard time listening to each other preach. I guess it’s only human nature. Mechanics will assess the work of other mechanics, a hairstylist will probably always have something to say about your haircut, a musician will usually notice a mistake that an untrained ear would miss, and pastors critique each others’ sermons.

In these summer months when most preachers find themselves taking a break from the pulpit for one reason or another, how can a preacher listen well? Two years ago I transitioned from being the lead pastor of a growing church to a ministry role at Houghton College. I went from preaching 46 weekends per year on average (plus special services, funerals, weddings, etc.) to a role at Houghton where I have over 55 opportunities every year to preach, teach, or lead worship at various events, but only find myself on a church platform to preach or lead worship around 30 weekends per year. As a result, I have to take a seat about 22 weekends per year. Here are four habits that have been vital for me, and maybe will help you take a seat this summer:

Come as a student, not a teacher

Students don’t use red pens. Teachers use red pens to grade their students’ work, but when you hear a sermon you are not there to give a grade: you are there to learn and grow.

I don’t think I’ve seen two pastors yet in my travels who preach the same way. Note-taking, manuscript preaching, note-less preaching, object lessons, putting images on a screen, or not – I’ve seen it all and then some. The mode of delivery can be a distraction especially for us pastors who preach all the time.

You can always learn something, though, in any sermon. Sometimes the learning comes easy. Sometimes I have to be very creative in my ability to learn, but you can always learn something. Maybe it’s a song you didn’t know before. Maybe it’s a theological, historical, or biblical point you didn’t know before (or had forgotten). Maybe it’s something about their delivery that you’ve never tried before. Maybe it didn’t even work for them, but you can try to utilize it in a more constructive way. You may not like the sermon. You may not want to hear it a second time. But you can probably still learn something, and if you go into it the service looking to learnsomething God will rarely let you come up empty.

When you are a preacher on vacation this summer, put away your red pen. Be a student, not a sermon critic.

Be an example of how to listen to a sermon

As a preacher, especially someone who serves as a guest speaker in a variety of settings, it is really helpful and encouraging to find a smiling, friendly face in the congregation. It is a gift to find someone who makes eye contact and stays engaged. Every once in a while I even find someone who laughs at my jokes.

When you take a seat, be aware of how you look from the pulpit. Do you appear engaged or indifferent? Are you expressing a warm demeanor, or detached? Are you just waiting for this to be over, or are you fully present? Actually, whether or not that sort of stuff helps other preachers the way it helps me, I know acting that way makes a big difference in my heart when it’s my turn to take a seat.

Think about how you’ll use your phone, too. Your phone is a gateway to a million distractions. Maybe you’re better off leaving your phone in your pocket.

When you get Sundays off this summer, do unto the preachers as you would have others do unto you when it’s your turn to preach.

Enjoy the weekend

I went 12 years without a weekend off. 12 years without a true, non–vacation, run-of-the-mill weekend off. I think lay people don’t realize how much of a sacrifice it is for pastors and their families to give up our weekends. I remember how strange it felt when I finally got my first true weekend off in 12 years. I remember saying to someone, “You mean this happens every week?” It made me realize that, while I faithfully took a day off in the pastorate, a day off is no match for a weekend.

A Sunday when you don’t have to preach might be the closest thing you get to a weekend off all year long. Guard your calendar. Stay up late on Saturday night. Make special plans. Seize the day.

When you get a Sunday off, make a weekend out of it.

Put An Arm Around Your Loved Ones

I will never forget the Sunday three summers ago I woke up to go to church. It was the first time in my adult life when I was not a church’s pastor on a Sunday morning. I was still an ordained pastor, still doing pastoral work, but no longer responsible for one specific congregation in the same way. I was usually to the church before my children were even awake on Sunday mornings, so going to church with my family was a foreign idea.

And I loved it. My favorite part? I got to sit with my family in church.

There are many Sundays when I am jealous of my friends who are pastors who get to perform baptisms, or preach to their own congregation, or lead communion. There are certain Sundays of the year when I really wish I had a church to whom I could preach. I console myself those mornings by putting my arm around my wife or one of my children during the sermon. It’s a simple pleasure that simply makes a big difference in my life.

Whatever else you do when you take some time off this summer, make sure you put your arm around someone you love.

Why It Matters

Like other professions, it is no secret preachers are opinionated about their craft. But unlike other professions, it is vital to your soul that you can hear the voice of God through other pastors. You have blind spots, I have blind spots, and it is not just for the sake of time off or as a professional courtesy that pastors must learn to take a seat. In the struggle for the preacher’s soul, this is an often overlooked battlefield.

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© Steve Dunmire 2016
Dr. Steve Dunmire is Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY), where he teaches classes for the Equipping for Ministry ministerial credentialing program, a program he oversees. Steve is an ordained Wesleyan pastor, and was a pastor in Buffalo-Niagara region churches for 12 years. Steve serves on the teaching/preaching team at Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church, a large church in suburban Buffalo, NY, and is also frequently invited to speak in churches throughout New York State. For more content visit SteveDunmire.com, or follow him on twitter at @DrSteveDunmire.

I am now an author for the Seedbed Preaching Collective, and this article was written for the Preaching Collective page. Click here to read it on the Seedbed Preaching Collective, and to find other Preaching Collective content.

10 Reasons I Hate Preaching (But Do It Anyway)

I hate preaching. There I said it. I really do. And right now someone reading this is saying, “I hate it when you’re preaching, too!” I have been preaching regularly now for 15 years, and it is almost always an agonizing experience for me. Here’s my attempt at explaining why.

  1. Illness and weather are no respecter of sermons

So much work and scheduling goes into preaching engagements, and yet headaches, stomach bugs, head colds, and bad weather are no respecter of sermons. I have a friend who just planted a church and, on the third Sunday, they had to cancel services because the pipes froze at the church they’re renting. Preaching is hard enough, but when you have to preach with a sore throat, a headache, or after being sick with a stomach bug, it can sure make you hate preaching if you’re not careful.

  1. Preaching is stress, and stress makes you lose IQ points

I get butterflies every time I preach. Even the most seasoned preachers I know admit that they experience a few butterflies right before speaking, too. The bad news is that stress, strong emotions, or anxiousness makes you lose temporarily IQ points. That stress can impair the functioning of the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for problem solving, emotional expression, and helps make decisions. So the stress of stage fright makes you lose IQ points, and yet in the very moment when I am trying to explain things, I cannot say things as clearly as I might want to because the stress that accompanies public speaking has impaired my ability to do so. Man, I hate that about preaching.

  1. Praise and criticism are hard to predict

I hate preaching because there is no one way to do it well. Preaching is an art, not a science. Some of the sermons that I have preached that are the most well-remembered and oft-quoted back to me are the same sermons that prompted the most angry emails or phone calls. I remember one week in particular when I was absolutely sure that I had preached a good sermon. It felt good as I was delivering it: hard truth mixed with pieces of cultural relevance and humor. It was a good sermon. The people in my church even loved it. They were talking about it on social media, and bringing it up in conversations with me throughout that week. It always feels so good to hit a home run like that once in a while. But then a man walked in to my office with a list of complaints about that very same sermon. He literally read his complaints off a piece of paper without looking up at me. He had been a friend, but now he wouldn’t even look at me. It was hard to believe that a sermon had done that. Especially such a “good sermon.” The very same sermon that had evoked such strong praise all week was now also drawing sharp criticism.

No matter how good a sermon is, there will be someone who doesn’t like it, and no matter how bad a sermon is, there will be someone who thinks it was great. Preaching is always dangerous that way. I hate that about preaching.

  1. The adrenaline crash afterward

I hate preaching because of how I usually feel afterward. The adrenaline drop, the exhaustion, remembering how I forgot to share that story, or the second-guessing that always happens between my own ears. Even when a Sunday has gone well, I go home exhausted. I hate how drained I feel after preaching (whether it went well or not). Preaching takes a lot out of me, and I hate that.

  1. Misspeaking

A pastor friend of mine posted recently about how embarrassed she was that, during their Ash Wednesday service, she had misspoken when trying to say the word “ash.”

Apparently her story struck a nerve, because several other pastors chimed in with their own stories about misspeaking. One pastor mentioned a Sunday when he was referring to the comic strip Peanuts but stumbled on the word “peanuts,” and said another word most pastors would probably try to keep out of their sermons. Another pastor shared about a youth reader in church who got quite a few chuckles when he repeatedly mispronounced the word “Gentiles”.

Misspeaking is every pastor’s nightmare, and yet something every pastor has experienced at some time or another! Anytime I hear a preacher or public speaker misspeak, or stumble over their words, especially when in an embarrassing way, it makes me ache, and it makes me hate preaching a little.

  1. Mishearing

I’ve received enough angry emails, letters, or phone calls over the years, but the most perplexing ones to respond to are the ones where people are angry about something I never actually said; or, things I said but not in the way the listener somehow heard. In fact, I’ve only ever had someone walk out in the middle of a sermon because of something I’ve said in a sermon (at least that I’m aware) and it was because this person completely misheard what I said.

That can get in your head if it happens to you enough times, and when I find myself wondering if someone might twist or mishear a statement I’ve made right in the middle of a sermon, it makes me hate preaching a little.

  1. All it takes is one angry person to take the joy away

You spend a week or more preparing a message, and 25-30 minutes talking, and yet when I think of all the times people have ever gotten angry at me for something I said while preaching, it was rarely something at the heart of the message. Usually they were angry about some non-essential point (and usually, in the final analysis, it wasn’t what I actually said, but what theythought they heard me say).

I think it’s easy to assume that most people are just being polite, but our critics are the ones being really honest with us, saying what everyone else is thinking. You can be complimented and praised by dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people. All it takes is one angry person to make you second-guess everything.

But every time a critic finds a way to rob me of all the joy of a Sunday’s worth of preaching with an angry word or email, I hate preaching a little.

  1. Preaching is risky

Preaching isn’t just risky because you open yourself up to the critics, though. Preaching is risky because it is a challenge to have something fresh, new, and true to say week after week. If you play it safe, you risk being boring. If you try to be creative, you risk saying something that no one else ever said before … because it isn’t true. Preaching every week is like white-water rafting: it’s exhilarating, it’s exciting, but even veterans respect how easy it is to get swallowed up by the current.

  1. Celebrity preachers

I’m just going to leave this here.

  1. There are no shortcuts to good preaching.

Whenever someone asks me when I finish working on my sermon I answer, “After I am done preaching it.” When I am preparing to preach, I live with the sermon throughout the process. I think about it in the shower, I think about it when I’m driving, and it can even disrupts my ability to focus on other areas of my life. The intensity of the preparation process doesn’t drop off for me until after I am done preaching. I have refined my preparation process, but I am yet to find any shortcuts. My process may be more “fuel efficient” than it was when I first started, but it’s no shorter.

Thomas Mann once said of writers, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” It seems to me that’s true of preachers, too. I know that I’m better at preaching than I was when I first started, and my listeners tell me I’m even a lot better than I was at it 2-3 years ago. But while the end result is getting better, the process isn’t getting any less arduous for me. Boy, do I ever hate that.

Why I preach anyway.

So why do preach anyway? I do not preach because I feel like must be heard. I preach because I’m convinced the Gospel needs to be heard, and that it is my duty to teach the scriptures. When I preach I do so as a living sacrifice to honor my King. I hate preaching but I do it anyway because I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is the power of God (Romans 1:16).

Actually, my relationship with preaching is really a love-hate relationship, so my follow-up article will express ten of the reasons why I really do love to preach.
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© Steve Dunmire 2016

Dr. Steve Dunmire is Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY), where he teaches classes for the Equipping for Ministry ministerial credentialing program, a program he oversees. Steve is an ordained Wesleyan pastor, and was a pastor in Buffalo-Niagara region churches for 12 years. Steve serves on the teaching/preaching team at Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church, a large church in suburban Buffalo, NY, and is also frequently invited to speak in churches throughout New York State. For more content visit SteveDunmire.com, or follow him on twitter at @DrSteveDunmire.

 I am now an author for the Seedbed Preaching Collective, and this article was written for the Preaching Collective page. Click here to read it on the Seedbed Preaching Collective, and to find other Preaching Collective content.

5 Convictions About Preaching Christ

What should I say? Every pastor asks him or herself that question one way or another when preparing an individual sermon, or planning a preaching calendar. Through my years of preaching I’ve also developed habits for long-range sermon planning, but I’ve also developed a conviction about the content of my preaching. I am convinced that my task as a preacher, first and foremost, is to preach Christ, and it can be summed up in these five convictions.

Conviction #1: A mini-Christ leads to mini-Christians

J.I. Packer said we have “pygmy Christians” because we have looked at God as if through the wrong end of a telescope, reducing him to “pygmy proportions.” John R.W. Stott (his friend) took it a step further saying, “we are pygmy Christians because we have a pygmy Christ,” and Stott said the most essential ingredient for the development of mature Christian discipleship is a genuine “vision of the authentic Jesus.” Stott’s writing on this convicted me of the central focus our preaching should be Jesus’ life, teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection.

 

Conviction #2: The name of Jesus.

I made a decision a few years ago to make sure I spoke the name of Jesus in every sermon. It might not necessarily be a sermon focused on Christ, but I intentionally make sure I find a way to talk about Jesus in some way shape or form even if Christ is not the focus of the sermon. Of course there is a difference between preaching that uses the Lord’s name in vain, and preaching that lovingly, and faithfully evokes the name of Christ. So far this has never felt forced, unnecessary, or awkward. Instead, when I have prepared a sermon where it feels forced to inject the name of Jesus, the problem is always with the sermon. What is more awkward than Christian preaching seemingly completely disconnected from the person and life of Jesus Christ?

 

Conviction #3: My task is to teach what Jesus taught.

An overlooked part of the Great Commission was Jesus’ instructions that we are to be “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” When I teach on discipleship with pastors, students, or lay people I often point out this part of the Great Commission, and then ask, “If I came to your church this Sunday and gave you a pop quiz now on ‘everything Jesus commanded,’ how do you think most of the people in your church would do? More importantly, how would you do?” Rarely are people in the room exceedingly confident.

 

Conviction #4: Christ is risen every day, not just Easter Sunday.

I was grading a paper earlier this year where an adult ministry student mentioned casually how it is harder for us today to follow Jesus because, she said, “He has been dead for almost 2,000 years.” I immediately wrote in the margin of her paper, “Christ is risen! And we serve a risen Savior who has been RISEN for 2,000 years!”

 

Now, I know this student, and I know she believes Christ is risen, and when I pointed out this statement to her she was mortified, but immediately I wondered how many sermons act as if Christ has been dead for 2,000 years rather than risen, and seated at the right hand of the Father?

 

It’s important for preachers to ask themselves from time to time, “Are there any subtle or not-so-subtle ways in which I am giving the impression that Christ was a martyr rather than a risen savior?”

 

Conviction #5: Jesus is not our mascot.

As David Bryant observed, in some American churches Jesus is not so much treated as our Lord but as our mascot. Houghton College, where I work and live, recently got a mascot for the first time. We are the Houghton Highlanders, and our mascot is a purple & gold lion in a Scottish kilt. Our mascot cheers at our games, inspires enthusiasm in the crowds, and makes other appearances at campus events, generally helping to foster school spirit. The mascot does not compete on the field of play, or take part in campus life, but is merely there to inspire and make people cheer.

 

Not so with Christ. Jesus may inspire us, but He does not do it as our cheerleader. He is Savior, He is Lord, and He ought not to be relegated to the sidelines when we have to make important decisions, or to do important work. Jesus is not our mascot.

Bottomline:

What should you preach? You should preach Christ. Not a caricature of Christ, not a dumbed-down version of Christ, but Christ in full dimensions. You cannot do better than to make every sermon an opportunity to teach everything Jesus commanded, taught, prayed, or lived. For further reading, I recommend Dr. Stephen Seamands’ book “Give Them Christ: Preaching His Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and Return.”

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© Steve Dunmire 2016
Dr. Steve Dunmire is Director of the Office of Ministry Resources at Houghton College (Houghton, NY), where he teaches classes for the Equipping for Ministry ministerial credentialing program, a program he oversees. Steve is an ordained Wesleyan pastor, and was a pastor in Buffalo-Niagara region churches for 12 years. Steve serves on the teaching/preaching team at Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church, a large church in suburban Buffalo, NY, and is also frequently invited to speak in churches throughout New York State. For more content visit SteveDunmire.com, or follow him on twitter at @DrSteveDunmire.

I am now an author for the Seedbed Preaching Collective, and this article was written for the Preaching Collective page. Click here to read it on the Seedbed Preaching Collective, and to find other Preaching Collective content.