This past weekend another young preacher asked me: “Do you ever get nervous before you preach”? “Usually” was my reply. What then followed was a most interesting conversation about the role nerves play in the delivery of sermons.
Interestingly, seasoned preachers take differing views on whether ‘nervousness’ is a legitimate associate of preaching. Bryan Chapell (cf. “Christ Centred Preaching”) sees preaching nerves as basically healthy, both from a theological and physiological perspective. In fact, Chapell even makes suggestions for better utilising them. On the other hand, John MacArthur (cf. “Preaching”) not only claims to lack nerves whilst preaching but suggests that they often betray poor preparation or the presence of pride.
So what do I think? Well, in my humble opinion: it depends. Nerves can be good or bad, and the same can be said for confidence. It all depends on their cause.
When Nerves and Confidence are Bad
There is a kind of pre-sermon fear that’s unhealthy. I think MacArthur is right when he suggests that fear of man (borne out of pride) should always be resisted. Its a painful fact that my own nervousness is often generated by the simple fact that I’m about to stand before six hundred people. But as long as nerves are tied to my self-interest they are no doubt sinful.
But does this mean to say that pre-sermon confidence is always a better scenario? Not at all. The fact is that we can be brimming with confidence yet be self-reliant, God-ignorant, and little concerned about the people we preach to. In this vein, there are many ‘confident’ preachers today who lack any sense of gravitas in their ministry.
When Nerves and Confidence are Good
On the flip side of all this, I’d like to propose that there is a nervousness (for want of a better word) that is positive. In fact, a fear of sorts is only natural. In view of the wonder of the gospel, the greatness of the One we are about to proclaim and the eternal destinies which hang in the balance, should we not tremble? For sure, this most certainly is not a fear of man, but of God. It is God who has given the mandate for the preacher to preach (2 Tim 4) and who will judge our words carefully (James 3). Therefore I pray before each sermon for a reverent fear in my heart as I come to preach.
But this does not preclude confidence in preaching (or to use the biblical word – “boldness”). Once more, this is not a confidence in self or ability but a sure trust in the sufficiency of God’s gospel and the empowerment of his Holy Spirit to proclaim it. This kind of preacher fears no man because he fears God. Nerves will remain – for the preacher speaks on behalf of the King of Kings – but he has everything he needs to boldly represent His Lord.