Why is it harder for ministers to preach today than it used to be?
Why is it harder for ministers to preach today than it used to be? We know that Whitefield, and others, would preach every day, all week, in different churches. Their life was spent preaching. They would preach spontaneously, as God gave the words to them.
Many times - or always? - for a Sunday sermon, they would rely on whatever God would give them Saturday night. Sometimes they didn’t have a text until the last moment.
Today, ministers plan their sermons days or weeks in advance. Sermons are well-organized and often in a series. It is more of a chore, and some ministers take a week off for vacation.
Obviously, it makes sense to plan ahead and organize a sermon. But how/why was it so different in the past? Why does not God just "pour it out" of ministers anymore?
You have some thought provoking questions. My answers are just a few short thoughts without any particular research.
You make a big assumption in your first question. How do you know it is harder for ministers to preach today than it used to be? Preaching has never been an easy task and even though in former days preachers may have preached more often, it doesn’t mean it was easier. But when the Spirit pours, preaching is very easy. Peter never even prepared his Pentecost sermon in Acts 2 and yet that sermon and the hours of teaching afterwards were blessed to bring 3000 sinners to repentance and faith. So it has been throughout the history of God’s Church. In times of revival, the men God called to preach were equipped with extra-ordinary powers of preaching without much or any preparation. However, Jonathan Edwards, who also was a source of great blessing during the Great Awakening, wrote out his sermons word for word and apparently read them out to his congregation. He wouldn’t have waited till Saturday evening. I don’t know whether he ever preached without having thoroughly meditated through his text.
During those times of revival, there were indeed opportunities of preaching every day or even several times a day. If there were such hungry congregations today, I am sure that God would also provide the food, miraculously multiplying a little preparation into an extensive ministry as He did with the five loaves and two fishes. I haven’t researched it but it is possible that sermons were repeated or least would very much resemble each other as they addressed new congregations. If I would have the opportunity to preach three or four times a day each time to a new congregation, I would also repeat my messages although they would never come out exactly the same. But my congregation wouldn’t like to hear the same message over and over even though the text may differ. Sadly, that’s what a lot of ministry of the Word is all about. It is the study of the words etc. that gives the freshness to each sermon.
If they really always or often didn’t have their text till Saturday night, I don’t know. But I don’t know whether that is good practice. It could be laziness or indecision. Or it can also be a lot of talk. Ministers remain sinners and it sounds and looks good to say that they didn’t get their text till they walked up to the pulpit. To be honest, I take those storied with a great grain of salt. I know my own heart. Paul exhorted Timothy to study the Word he was to preach and study takes time. To research the original words, the context of chapter, the purpose of the Holy Spirit in this text takes time and quiet meditation. That’s my task as a minister of the Word. Sure, I can easily talk an hour full and say all kinds of truths but that’s not what I am called to do. I am to expound the Word and teach what God’s Word is saying, line upon line. I am to seek the applications of this Word and drive those home in the heart as effectively as I can. All that takes prayer and meditation and that takes time. Sure there are exceptions when the week is so filled up with needs and demands on the minister’s time, that he didn’t get the time to study till Saturday. In those need God provides graciously as His servants are called again to labour. But normally a minister is to be like a bee: he is to visit flower upon flower and drawing the nectar of each, make it into a spoonful of honey. To wait till Saturday night and depend on the Holy Spirit without working with the Word, isn’t not a sound practice. Rev. Kersten called such ministers lazy.
How blessed are those congregations who get a regular ministry of the Word, orderly and balanced. You imply in your question there is something wrong with when a minister plans the series of sermons ahead of time. I don’t know where you get that thinking but I reject it entirely. A minister may spend many hours in prayer and meditation before he sets out a series of sermons and organizes them well so that the congregation will get the full benefit of the rich teachings of God’s Word. In our Reformed tradition we preach from the series of Catechism sermons every Sunday and how richly has God blessed that orderly treatment of His Word. More and more I am convinced that Calvin’s method of preaching is to be followed more: he preached text after text, chapter after chapter. Congregations who get this balanced teaching of the Holy Spirit are the healthiest churches for they get to hear all of God’s full and rich teachings.
Again, ministers are no supermen! You seem to think it is wrong for a minister to take off a week for vacation. Well, if it is wrong for him, then is wrong for you and everyone! Do you think that ministers are angels? They don’t need a rest for their body and soul! Jesus told His disciples to ‘come away in the wilderness and to rest awhile.’ In other words, He told them to have a little vacation! Too many ministers ruin their health and sacrifice their family by not taking proper breaks from their demands.
Why doesn’t God pour out upon His servants anymore what He poured in former times? I don’t know every answer and therefore I hesitate to answer this question. God is sovereign and He gives or withholds His blessings according to His good pleasure. But it sure won’t be cured by ministers waiting till Saturday night to find/get their text or by ministers not taking a vacation to rest their bodies and minds. What could cure it if there were more hunger for the Word in the congregations? But also that is a fruit of the work of the Spirit. Let’s humble ourselves before Him and seek His grace that He would shine His face once more.