Why Some Preachers Get Better and Others Don’t

Why some preachers never get better.

Understanding God’s calling on your life is a difficult thing. I’ve heard the story told several times during my career of men who believed they were following God’s calling only to realize years later that they had been wrong. Preaching is one of those double-edged swords that can either confirm for a man God’s calling or help him understand that God has not called him into vocational ministry.

The irony is, many men go into full-time ministry because they want to preach. They picture themselves sitting in a book-lined study that is decorated like the cabin of a great ship’s captain and trimmed in knobby oak with bronze fixtures. The furniture is a plush leather that serves as both a comfortable place to read and study, to meet with people (when absolutely necessary), and for the (occasional) afternoon nap. There is a double set of doors visitors must go through in order to enter into the The Pastor’s Study, which is guarded by a faithful assistant who carefully screens each and every person before they are allowed to enter. The first set opens into an outer lobby where visitors have an opportunity to remove their shoes and quietly prepare themselves to enter through the next set of doors. Only the most privileged and respectful of people get to enter into The Pastor’s Study. It is in this sanctuary where The Pastor will study and pray.

Unfortunately, most men finish seminary and land in their first church before they realize this is not a true picture of church ministry. They find themselves in a small, concrete-walled room that used to serve as a closet. The furniture is vintage 1974 and was donated to the church, so you can never get rid of it. (“That chair comes from the Smith family, who donated it after old Mr. Smith died in 1976. It was almost new, hardly been used.”) The “pastor’s study” is conveniently located close to the restrooms, not so the pastor has only a short way to walk to get to the restroom, but so he is available at a moment’s notice when the toilet begins to overflow. As a final gift for future pastors, the decorating committee that was formed in 1978 made the decision to carpet the restrooms so they would have a warm, cozy appeal. After 40 years of over-flowing toilets, the bathrooms emit a moldy, damp smell that gets pulled into the pastor’s study by the furnace, which was once in the same closet as the pastor’s study, but was walled off (in 1975) to provide the pastor with a more “finished” look to his office.

I’m sure other professions have a severe disconnect between expectation and reality (ask any classroom teacher, especially of middle-school aged kids), but this is a common misconception within vocational ministry. So, it should come as no surprise that when asked what makes the difference between a good preacher and a poor preacher, Hershael York, professor of Christian preaching at Southern Seminary, has a short answer: it’s God’s calling. He states,

The most frustrated preacher is the one who has a sense of duty, but not a burning calling.

Preaching is not just another helping profession, a Christian version of politics or the Peace Corps. The call to preach is a definite demand issued by the Holy Spirit that ignites a fire in one’s bones that cannot be extinguished by the hard-hearted, stiff-necked or dull of hearing.

A preacher who has been called must preach what God has spoken simply because God has spoken it. The success of one’s ministry will depend on the strength of his calling. His willingness to work at his preaching will be proportional to his conviction that God has called him to preach and to be as fit a vessel for God’s use as he can be. [Read More… sbts.edu]

If you are a pastor, frustrated by the quality of your sermons, perhaps the place to begin is with your calling. Do you have a burning calling to preach? Does this mean you are not called into the ministry if you do not have a calling to preach? Not necessarily. I have served in full-time ministry for 25 years, and I’ve only preached a handful of times during those 25 years. I recognize that God has not called me to preach, and I honestly do not have that desire. On the other hand, I do completely enjoy and thrive on the nuts and bolts of ministry, what some call “the machine” of the church or the business-side of the church. I also am called to be a part of the teaching team and work to incorporate strong teaching and fellowship through the small group ministry of our church.

There are men who are called to preach, and I am privileged to work with several of these men here at First Family–Todd Stiles, Carlos Jerez, Tony Didlo, Ed Gregory. I am motivated to do my job well so these men can spend time doing what they do well–preach!

If you find yourself in full-time ministry, and this involves a regular preaching schedule, but you sense this is not your calling, begin by asking the Lord to reveal to you where He wants to place you within His church. Be open to the feedback and suggestions of others whom you trust and who have what is best for you and the church at heart. Then follow where God leads and join Him in the work He is already doing.


    Chris Eller is a Christ Follower, Husband, Father, Pastor, Geek, Writer, Photographer, and Church Technology Consultant.