Preaching and the spiritual life of the preacher

Posted Oct 01, 2015 | Pastoral Excellence Network

By Bruce G. Epperly

Preaching is the most sustained public act of ministry for most senior and solo pastors. 

Preaching is also one the most sustained intellectual and spiritual activities of pastoral ministry. Each week brings a new encounter with the lectionary texts or a particular theme the preacher is working on. On the one hand, each year most pastors write the equivalent of a good sized book. On the other hand, most preachers spend five to ten hours a week in sermon preparation including reflecting on the text, reading commentaries, writing and poring over on-line resources.  

For many pastors, preaching is truly good news- an opportunity to share a hopeful vision, provide theological wisdom for congregants, and invite congregants to spiritual and ethical transformation. For others, preaching becomes a chore challenged by homiletical burn out as they struggle to piece something together from the various commentaries on Text Week or cribbing sermons from other preachers.  

One thing is for certain, most pastors live from Sunday to Sunday, seeking to speak a word of grace and transformation to their congregations.

Despite the challenges, I believe that the process of preaching can be personally and spiritually transforming. In my upcoming PEN Talk webinar, I will provide a variety of spiritual practices for preachers aimed at adding zest, vitality, and insight to your preaching. After thirty-five years in the pulpit, I still look forward to preaching, both the Sunday sermon and the preparation. I find the process of preaching to be spiritually edifying and theologically inspiring. Preaching has been essential to shaping both my theology and spirituality.

I first began preaching in 1972. I was a sophomore in college and had been asked, along with another student in our Baptist college group, to lead a weekly prayer and hymn service at a local convalescent home. Our audience was small, usually about a dozen, many of whom were attentive and dialogical, while others dozed off with the first hymn; but we prayed, sang the great hymns of the church, and reflected on the bible.  

When I began preaching at the service, I barely had a theology. I knew what I didn’t believe from my conservative Baptist roots. I didn’t yet know what I believed. At first, my weekly reflections were cobbled together, made up as I went along, integrating the social gospel, Hindu spirituality, and concern for the way of Jesus. But over three years of nursing home preaching and other writing, I discovered a faith I could live by and that is still evolving– a lively progressivism influenced by process theology, a concern for global spirituality and care for the earth and its peoples.

Preaching can be one of the great joys of ministry. 

Although every thoughtful pastor, like the prophet Jeremiah, asks, “Who am I to speak for God?” we preachers have the joy of speaking good news that gives hope, challenge, comfort, and transformation. And, that is a joy!

As we look toward the upcoming PEN Talk, I invite you to participate in a spiritual reflection related to your preaching and spiritual life. You may want to reflect on the following questions:
  • What is your current attitude toward preaching?
  • Where do you find joy in preaching?
  • Where is your greatest challenge in preaching?
  • How does your preaching relate to the rest of your ministry?
  • In what ways does your preaching strengthen your spiritual life?
  • In what ways does your preaching form your theology?
  • What one new practice will strengthen and deepen your preaching and spiritual life?

Join us for the PEN Talk, a free webinar, with Bruce Epperly on Thursday, October 29, 2015 at 2-3 pm EDT, go to: To join the meeting:

Bruce Epperly is Pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA.  He is the author of 35 books, including Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry, Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, and A Center in the Cyclone: 21st Century Ministerial Self-care.  When he is not walking on the beaches near his Cape Cod home or playing with his grandchildren, he teaches in doctoral programs at various seminaries and gives seminars and retreats on ministerial excellence and well-being, spirituality, and contemporary theology.

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact



Blog Archive