Have you ever felt nervous before delivering a sermon or speech? I know your answer already.
You’re not alone. Despite years of practice, I still get butterflies before stepping onto a stage.
I preached today at a church.
This church is doing some really wonderful things and growing in the process. I’ve spent most of my consulting time with them coaching the lead pastor and helping them design and execute a capital campaign.
I know them well. I know their staff. And I like their church.
I should also say I preach A LOT. Speaking and preaching are a normative part of my work.
Yet I felt somewhat nervous before stepping onto their stage.
Preaching with Butterflies
When I was newer to pastoring and preaching, I expected to be nervous. And I was!
After all, people fear public speaking above all else. Including death! Meaning that we’d rather be lying in the casket at a funeral than giving the eulogy!
But I digress. From a preaching nerves perspective, it didn’t help that my early days of ministry were at North Point. When the congregation hears Andy Stanley most weeks, stepping on the stage without nerves is nearly impossible. The first time I preached at North Point Community Church, they handed me a mic pack with Andy’s name on it! Talk about intimidating!
Yet as my reps increased and years pasts, my nerves didn’t seem to go away.
I was getting better and better, but still feeling anxious.
I suspected this was not a good sign, so I did some introspective digging.
Bad Reasons for Nervous Preaching
The reasons preachers feel nervous are varied, but most are unhealthy. Lack of preparation is, of course, one reason. But poor planning is easy to diagnose and solve. I was always prepared. Most of the time, I over-prepared.
My anxiety was founded somewhere else. Perhaps yours is, too.
Insecurity is a bit of a catch-all for preaching nerves. Insecure pastors feel nervous about how the congregation will perceive them, not what God can do through them.
Insecurity festers mostly from feelings of inadequacy. When the North Point production team handed me Andy’s mic pack, I immediately felt inadequate.
I’ve spent some time in the insecurity camp, so I know this emotion to be powerful and consuming. And anxiety-inducing!
Some pastors may feel pressured to deliver a “perfect” sermon whenever they speak. This is obviously unrealistic, yet the emotion can still create significant anxiety and nervousness.
Remember, perfection is the perversion of great.
Fear of Rejection or Criticism
Pastors, like everyone else, want to be liked and accepted. They may fear negative feedback or judgment from their congregations, especially when sharing a controversial or challenging message.
Like insecurity, imposter syndrome refers to the feeling of being a fraud or not genuinely belonging in one’s role, despite evidence to the contrary. For example, pastors might feel they’re not “spiritual enough” to guide their congregation.
This was part of my early preaching anxiety. I entered the ministry from the marketplace with an MBA, not a seminary degree. I was 35, often preaching to people much older and, I assumed, more intelligent than me. Preaching while assuming you’ll be “found out” at any moment is a recipe for anxiety.
When a pastor compares themselves to others, especially more experienced or eloquent speakers, they can feel inadequate and nervous about their performance.
Again, see my boss: Andy Stanley.
Today, preaching and sermons are so accessible that it’s nearly impossible not to feel a bit inadequate by comparison. Thanks, internet!
Fear of Failure
The fear of not living up to one’s own expectations or the expectations of others can cause significant anxiety. Not to mention failing during a sermon is quite the public special!
Uncertainty about the Message
Doubt about the relevance, depth, or importance of the sermon’s content can cause nervousness. Pastors may worry about whether their message will resonate with their congregation.
I call these “bad reasons” because that’s what they are. Insecurity and its counterparts are self-inflicted anxieties. Same with a lack of preparation.
When you look at this list, there is one commonality: Self-focus.
In each of these anxiety-causing spaces, we focus on our content and our presentation for the sake of how we will look, sound, or be judged.
I lived in this anxiety space for a long time. Not because Andy or anyone else at North Point created it but because I was the focus of my sermons. I was the central element of my preaching.
Why We Should Be Nervous
Bad reasons aside, there is one healthy reason to feel some level of nerves before preaching: The Gospel.
It’s not our job to change people, but we do participate in transformations by creating conditions conducive for God to do his best work.
This is why all these self-focused anxieties are so detrimental. Sure, God can overcome them and accomplish his work, but when we make ourselves the focus of our messages, we accidentally create some particularly unconducive conditions that make God’s job a little bit harder.
If you feel nervous because you desperately what to see people come to faith and grow in their relationship with Jesus, that’s healthy. This version of nerves is more akin to excitement than anxiety. On the other hand, if you find yourself worried about how you’ll be seen or judged, you may be unintentionally working against what God is hoping to do in and through you.
My Prayer for Nerves
This is why every time I step on a stage to preach or speak, I pause and pray something like this:
“Heavenly Father, today is about you first and the people who will hear your message next. Please remove any self-focus or insecurity from my heart and allow me to be the best conduit I can be for you and the Gospel. I pray for confidence and clarity during the message, and I pray that I will enjoy the privilege of being used by you today. Amen.”
Nerves before preaching are sometimes good. It really depends on the source of the emotion.
If You Preach, Check Out These Posts, Too
- Facing the Fear: A Guide for Pastors to Overcoming 8 Common Anxieties
- 6 Ways to Find Purpose Outside of Self-Promotion
- Research Shows Half of Pastors Don’t Believe Their Preaching is “Strong”
- 6 Strategies to Preach Your Best Sermon
I also created a course to help pastors and preachers: Course: Preaching With Purpose