As a boy I had the privilege of growing up watching of the all time greats of baseball, Cal Ripken, Jr., while he was in his prime. He was known as the “iron man” because of his consecutive game streak, beating Lou Gerig’s long time record of 2130 games and he still holds this record to this day. Cal’s work ethic and perseverance to the game of baseball also extended to his defensive abilities — as a shortstop he was equally admirable for his faithfulness. Ripken was unusually great offensively, too — especially for a shortstop — and all of us as boys idolized him.
But I remember one particular year when Cal was in a hitting slump and it was lasting a very long time. I even remember the year – 1992. Cal was trying everything to get out of his slump- that year I recall that he tried three different batting stances, one that was so awkward and unnatural looking that I felt he had a better chance of hitting the catcher behind him than the ball in front of him. As I admiringly observed Ripkin’s baseball career as a boy, I observed several of these occasional hitting slumps. But Cal always recovered from them, faithfully.
In a way, pastors go through occasional preaching slumps, too. At least the faithful ones do. It’s easy to have a collection of 10 or more sermons and preach the same ones all over the country, complete with “zinger” illustrations and everyone lauds you as a great preacher. However, the faithful, expository preacher will sometimes feel a great sense of freedom and power in the pulpit, but sometimes he will not.
I do need to be clear, here. I’m not talking here about the failure to preach the text of God’s Word– a preacher has no excuse for such a failure, rather I’m talking about the subjective element of preaching that many preachers would describe as “freedom in the pulpit.” The Apostle Paul explains it best when he asks the Ephesians to pray “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, (Eph 6:19 NKJ)” Paul must have gone through these “slumps” as well and he knew the power of prayer.
I have a couple of initial thoughts on this toward preachers and listeners:
1. Fellow pastors, we must be faithful to “preach the Word” regardless of whether or not we have a sense of freedom. We are accountable to the Lord for this.
2. Listeners, whether or not your pastor has as much freedom to preach as you have previously observed or not, if he is faithfully preaching the text you CAN glean great truths from it. In fact, I personally feel that one of the reasons pastors might go through preaching “slumps” is to teach God’s people to appreciate the faithful exposition of the Word. Mature Christians know how to feed on the steak regardless of how well it is seasoned.
That said, there does seem to be some causes for preaching slumps and some helps for preachers to get out of them (although I do feel the Lord is ultimately in control of this as the “bestower” of freedom in the pulpit). Likewise, a church member can either provide help for his/her pastor or he can actually make matters worse. In upcoming posts we’ll discuss how a preacher gets into a “preaching slump,” what steps he can take to get out of it (Lord willing), and how a concerned church member can help (and keep from hurting) the situation.