Top ten lists. Every sport, every profession, every person has a “top ten.” Preachers are no different. From your ten favorite sermons, to your ten favorite resources, to your ten favorite preachers, you can find a “top ten” for just about anything. Some are fun and frivolous, while others are serious and somber, causing you to pause for reflection. Below you’ll find my list of ten common temptations of every teacher of the Word. Whether you’re preaching in your living room to a small group or walking the steps to a pulpit each Sunday in front of a large crowd, there are common temptations you have to deal with. I’m sure as you read it, you’ll find some you can relate to, maybe a few you haven’t had to deal with yet, and probably think of a few that could be added. It’s my prayer, though, that as you reflect upon these, you’ll see some you’ve had victory over, and be able to prepare yourself for the others when they come.
10. The temptation to woo.
Once you overcome the fear of being in front of a crowd and begin to see how your words can affect hearers, every preacher is tempted to woo their audience. Remember, it’s your job to preach the Word and let the Holy Spirit draw people to Christ.
“As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32, CSB
9. The temptation to entertain.
As time goes on, you’ll feel the pressure to keep your preaching fresh and relevant. You’ll look out on the congregation that used to be full of smiles and wide-open eyes, and see people zoning out or snoozing, and decide you need to do something to wake them up. And you do! But it’s not through entertainment. Remember, what it takes to get people’s attention is what it takes to keep their attention.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16–17, CSB
8. The temptation to manipulate.
As you gain experience and learn to use the tools of the preaching trade, you’ll realize you can manipulate your audience. This can be done in many ways, from misusing passages of Scripture to manipulating the environment. Remember, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people of sin, not yours.
“When he comes, he will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: About sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.” John 16:8–11, CSB
7. The temptation to impress.
Head to a preaching conference, take a few Bible College or Seminary courses, and you’re going to learn a few nuggets of wisdom the average church member doesn’t know. Remember, your knowledge is meant to be passed on for edification as you build up the saints for the work of the ministry, not puff you up.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Ephesians 4:11–12
6. The temptation to skip the hard stuff.
Whether you preach expositionally, follow a lectionary, or simply preach topically from current events, you’re going to have to deal with issues that you know listeners in your audience are going to disagree with, and you’re going to take the heat for. Remember, Jesus commanded us to make disciples and teach them to follow all his commandments, not pick and choose.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19–20, CSB
5. The temptation to be lazy.
Let’s be honest for a moment. It’s difficult to be disciplined enough to do the work of exegeting the text, doing the word studies, finding out the context of a passage, and then writing the sermon so it follows the structure, substance, and spirit of the text. Remember, we’re called to show ourselves as one approved to handle the word.
“Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15, CSB
4. The temptation to procrastinate.
Life is busy, and it’s hard to prioritize what’s most important in the life of a minister. Follow up, hospital visits, questions from members, staff meetings, and everything else will compete for your time. Remember, prior preparation prevents poor performance, and procrastination increases the pressure to give in to the temptations listed above.
“But as for you, exercise self-control in everything, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:5, CSB
3. The temptation to compare.
Whether you’re thinking how small your church is compared to the one down the street, how much easier it would be to pastor a smaller church with fewer demands on your time, or comparing yourself to another preacher, it’s easy to compare yourself to others. This is a trap and a double-edged sword that will only cut you in the end. Either you’ll become prideful at your success, or downcast at your perceived lack thereof. Remember, just as God raises up and pulls down rulers, so he does the same for pastors.
”I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” 1 Corinthians 3:6–8, CSB
2. The temptation to be lonely.
No matter where you’re serving, it’s easy to build barriers around yourself, even if you don’t do it intentionally. There is no job in the world like preaching, and no one else understands unless they’re a fellow preacher. You will carry burdens for others, make calls no one else has to make, and deal with issues most don’t understand. Yes, form a group of friends and mentors to lean on, but remember, shepherds live among their sheep.
“The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own outside, he goes ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10:2–4 CSB
1. The temptation to quit.
Every preacher and Bible teacher is tempted to throw in the towel. I once heard a friend of mine call them bread truck Mondays. I immediately thought, “What about guys who preach Wednesdays? Do they have trash collection Thursdays? Or those who preach at Saturday services? Do they have short-order cook Sundays?’” (Not that there is anything wrong with those professions!) Whether you’re a pastor preaching every Sunday, an evangelist preaching revivals, or preaching at a conference, it’s hard work to proclaim and teach the Word if you’re doing it right, and everyone is tempted to quit at some point. Remember, though, it’s God who called you, and he’ll be faithful to see you through to the end.
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23–25, CSB
Trey Holmes is the Director of Alumni and Church Relations at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a Ph.D. student in the Southwestern Center for Text Driven Preaching.