Nerves: Never or Necessary?

January 31, 2007

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.



  1. These are great thoughts. As I read your post, this passage of Scripture came to mind as a motivation for a healthy fear or nervousness:

    2 Corinthians 2:15-16 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

  2. You make a really good distinction between good and bad nerves. I’m so often worried about over confidence when I preach. I have to constantly remind myself that I am completely incapable of doing any justice to the Word of God apart from the Spirit.

  3. I love to preach. It’s one of the only times of the week I know I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do without a shadow of a doubt.

    I never get nervous, like butterflies in the stomach, but sometimes notice afterwards that my hands are trembling.

    Preaching/teaching is a solemn duty that I don’t take lightly and yet I enjoy it greatly. It is a fearful/wonderful experience all wrapped into one.

    James 3:1 “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”

  4. I have always been nervous prior to preaching. I don’t know if it is the fear of failure due to the fact we are ambassadors of Christ, or if it just anxiety of the spiritual warfare involved. But I have always sense a complete feeling of confidence once I begin preaching. Preparation and prayer always have an impact on the level of that confidence, but there is also just something “natural” — a sense of this is what I was born for. Maybe that is that often debated “calling to preach” issue. One thing I know, I would rather be preaching than anything else in the world.
    >> Thanks for this encouraging post, my Scottish brother.

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