Column Title: Fanning the Flame: Reigniting the Joy of Christian Communication for Pastor, Pew, and Public
Column Entry: “The State of Things”
By Joseph Bird, PhD, MDiv, William Carey University
Column Description: Preaching and teaching are public communication art and science, but never easy. It is especially difficult when we lose the joy we once had to effectively communicate God’s Word. This column aims to encourage Christian communicators–whether in the pulpit or in the pew- to find joy once again in preparing, crafting, and delivering God-honoring messages that equip the Body of Christ and witness the redemptive power of the Gospel to the world. The column engages with Scripture, Christian thinkers, teachers, and theologians throughout Church history, contemporary homileticians, rhetoricians, and other communication scholars and practitioners to rediscover a deep, lasting joy in Christian communication that nourishes and transforms.
Introductory Column: The State of Things
I began my first ministry position 20 years ago. During the past two decades, I have seen many friends quit the ministry—over those years, I have almost been one of them many times. From the pew, pastoral ministry seems wonderful. People see that we get to spend our lives sharing the gospel and loving God’s people. We get to study the Bible for a living, and each week, we get to share a message from God’s Word. Our people see that we seem to have boundless energy and a fitting word for every occasion. What people often do not see is that pastors are burned out and overwhelmed.
In a Barna survey from the end of 2021, 38% of pastors considered leaving full-time ministry during that year. In that same study, researchers found that in the under-45 age group, a staggering 46% of pastors had seriously contemplated quitting ministry.
Pastors are leaving, and contemplating leaving, the ministry for many reasons. One significant reason is the stress of preaching. Much like pastoral ministry, preaching seems easy enough from the outside but is incredibly difficult for those who do it week in and week out.
Another Barna survey from June 2022 highlights specific areas where preachers say they struggle with preaching. They are concerned that their sermons aren’t actually helping people; they feel uncertain about what their people need to hear; they are unsure how to connect with their online audience, amongst a host of other issues.
As preachers, we can quickly become discouraged and feel inadequate in our preaching; however, there is good news. The call to preach is not new. We are not the first generation of preachers called to this sacred work. Preaching is an ancient practice that was handed down to us. Preaching unites the prophets, the scribes, the apostles, the church fathers, the scholastics, the reformers, and us.
That said, the burden of communicating the Bible is not only carried by those behind the pulpit but by those in the pew as well. Many of the same stresses that preachers experience as they craft and deliver sermons are felt by the laity. The weight is felt by Sunday School teachers and small group leaders, by children’s church teachers, and by those who desire to share their faith clearly and accurately with their neighbors.
Not only is Christian communication not new, but the stresses and strains that we feel are also not new. The preachers and teachers who have gone before us have wrestled with the same types of issues we face. They, too, had seasons of depression and moments where they wanted to quit. They also wrestled with the text and wondered if they could possibly convey its meaning accurately and applicably. They wondered if their words were having any impact on their people. They struggled and stumbled, but they kept proclaiming the Word of God.
These ancient Christians have much to teach us about overcoming struggles in Christian communication and finding joy once again in proclaiming the Word of God. But we not only have ancients to help us; we also have contemporaries who struggle and fight the same battles that we are facing. They, too, have words to help us with our preaching and teaching.
My goal for this column is to help encourage pastors and laity to find joy once again in preparing, crafting, and delivering messages that honor God and help people. The column will engage with Scripture, pastors in Church history, contemporary homiliticians, rhetoricians, and other communication practitioners as we seek to rediscover a deep, lasting joy in proclaiming the Gospel.
Preaching and teaching Scripture is hard work, but it is work that God has called us to do. We aren’t out here alone. Jesus has kept His promise—He has not left us as orphans. We have a Father who loves us and created us for this work; we have a Savior who rescued us and has sanctified us for this holy calling; we have the Spirit of God dwelling in us and empowering us to “Preach the Word.” (2 Tim 4:3)
I pray that you do not lose heart. “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
I leave you with a prayer that Thomas Nelson Publishers posted for pastors a few years ago during Pastor Appreciation Month. May the words of this prayer encourage and revive us all as we seek to preach the Word and love His people.
Dear Lord, My pastor’s on the front line; an easy target for the enemy and his minions. My pastor’s preaching the Word faithfully from the platform each week as a community leader, and a completely sold out servant to You. Dear Holy Spirit, empower the pastor this day to boldly proclaim the truth of Your Word. Help the pastor not to grow weary in well-doing or to fall away but provide grace upon grace. I’m thanking You in advance for what You will do in and through our pastor this very day, in Jesus’ name.
Author bio: Joseph serves as the Dean of the Cooper School of Missions and Ministry Studies at William Carey University and as the pastor of Leaf River Baptist Church in Collins, MS. He did his Ph.D. in Biblical Exposition at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He teaches a variety of religion courses, but his research interests are in homiletics, pastoral theology, and ecumenism.
* The views of any CCSN columnists are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CCSN. We invite and embrace a wide range of views and critiques on important communication and cultural issues. The CCSN is a community of Jesus followers who study communciation. We do not support or promote a particular social, political, or denominational agenda.
 Phil. 1:6 (ESV)