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3 Keys to Godly Confidence in the Pulpit

My first sermon lasted about 10 minutes. I remember reeling in the vestibule after the message, wondering how I had blown through all my notes, anecdotes, and musings on the divine in the amount of time it takes to make a hot ham and cheese sandwich. I learned a valuable lesson in ministry that day: It is one thing to prepare a sermon; it is quite another to deliver it.

Over the years, I have been comforted by quotes from preachers like John Knox, saying, “I have never once feared the devil, but I tremble every time I enter the pulpit.” Reverence and care are proper responses when fulfilling that divine mandate of proclaiming the gospel through the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:18).

But we should also be bold and confident as we teach and encourage our congregations. We have a rich heritage of passionate, powerful preaching from the New Testament into the modern age. The disciples’ prayer of Acts 4:29 goes before all preachers of the gospel—that the Lord would “grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness” (CSB).

To that end, here are a few keys to confidence in the pulpit that have enabled me, and those who taught me, to speak God’s Word with all boldness. 

1. Confidence from knowing the Word

I know what you’re thinking: “Well, duh.” Pastors should study and be able to properly exegete Scripture before the congregation. But when I say, “Know the Word well,” I’m referring to the study of God’s Word that takes place outside of sermon preparation. Private Bible study can be one of the first things to fall by the wayside in the life of a busy pastor. We begin supplementing personal time in Scripture with prep time. And before we are aware of it, we begin starving our own souls with the excuse of feeding others.

To intimately know God through His Word, we must sacrifice and consecrate time of private study for ourselves. We need times in which we read God’s Word not for notes or subpoints but for the joy and thrill of experiencing the breath of God over our souls.

You’ll be preaching through a passage one Sunday morning, and a passage you studied on Thursday will come to mind. No warning. No notes on that passage. But all the same, it’s there. And at that moment, you’ll see the connections between your personal and professional study. And God will speak to His people, with His Word, through you. Give the Lord some ammunition to work with and see how He changes your preaching.

There’s an old saying, “Never trust a skinny cook.” If someone is preparing you a meal, you want them to be close to the ingredients. Confident pastors live close to the ingredients and allow God to feed others through the Word.

2. Confidence from knowing your flock

In often reducing preaching to the fundamental elements of preparation, study, and delivery, pastors deprive themselves of one of the greatest sources of confidence in preaching—speaking God’s Word into the circumstances and lives of our flock.

Impersonal sermons that simply cover text and hit the bullet points are fine for conveying information. However, pastors are called to more than that. We are called to proclaim truth into the lives of our congregation, answering their deeper questions, comforting them, and encouraging them in the faith. Each flock is different in terms of spiritual needs, growth, and strengths. As the shepherd, take the time to assess and speak directly to those needs and strengths.

It can be tempting to focus on only one aspect of pastoral ministry—preaching, discipleship, or ministry of servanthood. However, we must remember these aspects are designed to work in unison with one another. As we serve our congregations and disciple individual members in the faith, we must find the pulse of our church’s heart and speak the truth directly to it. The visits, conversations, and prayers pastors have on Monday serve as the kindling for the fire in the pulpit on Sunday. Get down from the platform, get into the pews, and get to know your people.

3. Confidence from knowing your role

Pastor, the pulpit is a foxhole from which you and I must return fire against the lies and attacks of the enemy. As you study, imagine yourself stockpiling ammunition for the Holy Spirit. As Hebrews 4:12 reminds us, “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (CSB).

Our message is a living Word. As we preach the Word, the Holy Spirit moves to convict, assure, and encourage the hearts of those listening. This is something a pastor cannot do. Only the Holy Spirit can accomplish the work of regeneration, revival, and salvation.

Your role as pastor is simple: Be a well-studied proclaimer of the Word. You don’t need to be an entertainer, comedian, or motivational speaker. Every pastor studies differently. Some pastors will tell you to study an hour for every minute you will preach. Others, like Spurgeon, did their best sermon prep on Saturday afternoon. You should take enough time to become familiar with the material and other contextual passages.

Rather than searching for the spotlight, pastors are called to let God’s Word do the work only He can do. Still, we are called to assist by faithfully proclaiming the Word of God. Paul is clear on this, “How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14, CSB). When we consider the work God does while we are preaching and, by comparison, the little work we do, we should become more eager to do our part to the best of our abilities.

This article originally appeared at lifewayresearch.com. For more insights on church and culture and practical ministry helps from Lifeway Research, sign up for their Daily Insights newsletter.

    About the Author

  • Jacob Lewis