This October, I (Rick) have a book being published by Lexham Press (the company that produces Logos Bible Software). The book is called The Heart of the Preacher because it deals with some of the heart-level tests experienced by those who preach and teach God’s Word. Tests like insecurity, ambition, boasting, and failure. My prayer is that it proves helpful to all of us who have the privilege and responsibility to communicate God’s Word to others.
Here’s the introduction for the book:
Preaching is hard work. Anyone who tells you otherwise either has the gifting of Charles Spurgeon (highly unlikely) or is not doing biblical preaching. Practically everyone who takes up the joyful burden of preaching God’s Word discovers that effective sermons don’t come about easily or automatically.
When I was getting started as a preacher, the fact that preaching requires hard work didn’t come as a major shock. My big surprise came when I realized the hardest work a preacher must do happens within the preacher’s own heart. Over time, I’ve found the most challenging part of a sustained preaching ministry is not the rigor required to exegete a text, the thinking needed to discern the main message, the skill involved in crafting a clear and compelling outline, or even the energy necessary to communicate with authentic passion. My biggest challenge is keeping my heart in good order week in and week out. Preaching is not just hard work; it’s heart work.
In speaking of preaching as heart work, I’m using the term heart as understood in Scripture. While current cultural usage treats heart as a synonym for emotions, the Bible presents a far more robust, holistic viewpoint. In Scripture, heart refers to “the center or focus of man’s inner personal life.” As Tim Keller points out, while the heart produces emotions, it also thinks, wills, plans, decides, and trusts. Preaching has a way of testing this part of those who engage in it regularly.
Tests of the Heart
I had the privilege of attending a seminary with a history of training excellent expositors. My professors taught me the importance of exegesis, hermeneutics, big ideas, clarity, and application. What was harder to learn in a homiletics class was how life and ministry would test my heart.
When I started in pastoral ministry, its pressures and demands tempted me to skim the text, rather than soak in it, as I prepared to preach. Prioritizing and protecting time for sermon preparation turned out to be less of a time-management problem and more of a self-control challenge.
I would carve out time to prepare my sermons, but I inevitably faced another test: would I allow the text to determine the substance of my sermon, or would I use the text to support my thoughts? Would I follow the terrain of the text wherever it led, or would I chart my own sermonic path, making the text head in a direction of my choosing?
Beyond these challenges, though, a host of unseen battles began to wage war inside my heart. On Sundays when the sermon went well, my heart overflowed with relief, gratitude, and joy. Then, without warning, pride would start to seep in and muddy the waters of my heart. On the Sundays when my sermon fell flat, I too felt flattened. I had to fight the urge to withdraw and become self-focused. In the lobby after the service or on the drive home, I fished for words of affirmation to bolster my sagging spirit.
The tests didn’t stop there. Attending a gathering of pastors or hearing of friends serving in high-profile ministries often triggered competitive urges, unwanted feelings of comparison, or a deflating sense of insignificance.
Ministry turbulence and relational tensions brought still more tests for my heart. How do you speak with confidence when you’ve been shaken by conflict? How do you preach well when all is not well with your own soul? How do you proclaim the goodness of God when you are not in a good place? Who can you even talk to about these matters?
The way we handle these tests of the heart will affect how we hold up in ministry. Most preachers have friends from seminary who did not last in ministry in spite of being unusually bright students, incredibly insightful exegetes, and remarkably gifted communicators. They didn’t lack aptitude or ability; they had a heart problem. In some cases, their hearts gave way to sinful attitudes and actions. In other cases, their hearts gave up from being worn down and hardened by the sins of others. It’s too tragic.
The Heart of a Preacher
These challenges launched me on a journey into the heart of the preacher. I went back to God’s Word for correction and direction; I also listened to wise counsel from seasoned, godly preachers—some I knew personally and others I only knew through their writings.
In this book, I seek to pass along the heart-level lessons God has been teaching me over the past thirty-plus years of preaching. I’ve had the chance to test these findings with other pastors and with the students I teach in homiletics courses at Heritage College and Seminary. My heart in writing is to help your heart as a preacher.
The book is organized into two parts. In the first, The Testing of a Preacher’s Heart, I highlight fifteen heart-level tests preachers often experience as they seek to preach God’s Word. These tests—such as dealing with ambition, comparison, or insignificance—are commonly faced but not commonly addressed in preaching books or at pastoral gatherings.
Part 2, The Strengthening of a Preacher’s Heart, provides practical guidance intended to help preachers prepare their hearts to face these heart tests in God-honoring, soul-stabilizing ways. While we cannot keep our hearts from being tested, we can take intentional steps to get ready for the tests. Each of the final ten chapters deals with a habit God has used to strengthen my soul to better proclaim his Word.
The hardest part of preaching is the heart work it requires. If you have a passion to preach and teach God’s Word, I invite you to join me on this journey into the heart of a preacher.
 O. R. Brandon, “Heart,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 499.
 Timothy Keller, Preaching (New York: Penguin Random House, 2015), 158.