The preacher’s anxiety dream


02/12/2013 by Chris Green


I think the shortest time I ever had to prepare a talk, was around five minutes.

It was all down to a blissfully simple misunderstanding. A friend was arranging an evening on world mission, with a variety of speakers from around the country, key folk from local churches, and a number of mission agencies. Quite high profile, in a modest sort of way.

And over the summer he asked me a fatefully ambiguous question: “Chris, could you do the Bible reading?” Now’s here’s an insight into a particular subculture of English Evangelicalism: the phrase, ‘Bible Reading’ can mean either the public reading of the Bible passage, or the explanation of it, the talk or sermon. I thought Ray meant the former. He thought he meant the latter.

So we found ourselves having an odd conversation in a whisper as the guests filed into the auditorium.

HIM – All OK for the Bible reading?
ME – Sure. What’s the passage?
HIM – Well, you should know! (Jovial chortle turned into sudden panic as the penny dropped)

I had the opening welcome and song to come up with a reading and an exposition.

  • Lesson #1 Be unambiguous in the invitations you give or accept. Don’t use code.
  • Lesson #2 I was never so grateful to have had a decent Quiet Time in a morning as I was during that welcome and song. I turned again to the passage I had read and which had so stirred me, and rehearsed what I had found. Making explicit what had been the jumps in my thinking, I realised I had been preaching to myself, and so I was able to preach to others.
  • Lesson #3 The real lesson: never stop feeding off God’s Word yourself. Never become a professional, who turn to the Bible for material for others, but never scour their own souls with his gracious, loving, powerful truth.

God was kind that day. But if I had become a professional, or if I yet become one, his kindness in that way would be removed, to be replaced by a sterner kindness in which he withdrew the ability to think quickly and faithfully, replaced by obvious fake sincerity and platitude.

That’s the real nightmare.

And for a bit of fun…. Anyone had a shorter time to prep than 5 minutes? Comments below!

2 thoughts on “The preacher’s anxiety dream

  1. Paul Witter says:

    Not quite that bad. But one of my very first sermons was on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. I was expected to preach for 20 minutes and I had about 40 minutes of material. I set about culling a huge section that I figured was too complicated for the congregation. Satisfied, I sat in the pew waiting for the Bible reading (yes it was someone actually reading the passage), a hymn and then I was due to preach. As the lady read the verses, my heart sank. I had cut out the main point! I had the length of the hymn to pray and search my memory. The Lord provided, of course.

  2. Tom Watts says:

    My training incumbent used to encourage me to do Wednesday 10am communion sermons (five to seven minutes) with very little prep. It’s quite a useful discipline in its own way. He argued that while good prep is the norm, a gospel minister ought to be able to open the Scriptures and say something edifying.

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