I used to get pretty sick before I preached. It didn’t matter if I was speaking before a group of youth on a Friday night, a Young Adult retreat or a Sunday morning worship gathering. The feeling never changed. My nerves set in late the night before, and by the day of the event, I had a terrible stomachache and a bad case of the sweats. I was a train wreck (at least on the inside!).
I’m the only one to blame for this. I knew early in life that public speaking was one of my strengths, and at one point I asked God to give me a reminder of my need for him, even in the area that I excelled. What a terrible idea! From that moment the butterflies entered my stomach, and a sense of fear entered my mind.
Incredibly, once I stepped up to the microphone the feeling left, and I was able to speak as freely as I would in my own living room.
No More Preaching on a Sick Stomach!
Reflecting back, I realize that most of my nervousness stemmed from fear of what others thought about my message and delivery. It had little to do with being right with God and allowing him to speak to me and through me. You see, not only do I enjoy speaking, but I am also a people pleaser. And my nerves had a lot more to do with worry about whether people would like me, or relate to the stories, scripture and sermon series than it did with a fear of God. It was subtle but stifling.
Now my pre-preaching routine is far more enjoyable. Here’s what’s changed for me, and I’m sure it will work for you too!
Take God at his word.
His word will not return empty (Isaiah 55:11). I believe that, and I know you do too! So I remind myself that God is the one who gave me the word I am speaking on that day. I trust that he wants to reach people with the sermon even more than I do. I worry less about whether my sermon is good enough. Instead, I pray, listen to the voice of the Spirit, and work diligently through the week. Then I rest in the fact that I have heard from God, and he will make the message come alive.
Godly confidence, not charisma.
Once I’ve put in the work on my sermon, I let it simmer. This is why I never leave it to the last minute (nor should you!). This allows me to personalize the message and give it my own voice and style. Greater than that, it allows God to speak directly to me about how this message needs to sink into my heart and mind before it can come alive to others. Charisma is good, but confidence in Christ is so much better. When the message has transformed you personally it will transform others. Guaranteed.
Craig Groeschel also had severe nerves before speaking at one point in his ministry. One of the ways that he got over this was to physically step forward before he spoke. This was his reminder to step into God and out of himself. Often I echo the words of John the Baptist “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30, ESV) before I speak. This is a reminder that I am a messenger, and the message is way more important than the messenger. I want people to remember what the Spirit was saying to them through the sermon, rather than remember some detail about me.
There are some days I still feel some anxiety or nerves before I speak, but now they don’t paralyze me. Instead, I remind myself to take God at his word, place my confidence in Him, and step into his power.
My preaching has changed for the better. And so will yours.
Michael Voll is the author of Sideswiped: Three Keys to a Fresh Start After Suffering a Broken Heart. He serves as the Associate Pastor at North Pointe Community Church in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He is on the regular preaching schedule at NP and is an adjunct faculty member at Vanguard College in the School of Pastoral Leadership. He writes at michaelvoll.com. You can follow him on Twitter @michaelvoll.
What has helped you with your nerves before preaching?
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