Millican’s Law for Preachers

This week we concluded a five-week preaching course at Christ Church London, by reflecting on the emotional and spiritual life of the preacher. Over the years, I’ve learnt so many things about the practicalities of preaching, crafting sermons, the art of delivery… I have plenty more still to learn. But the most precious lessons I’ve learnt, and the things I wish I’d been told earlier, are to do with my own life. How to handle my emotions. How to receive feedback, be it good, bad, or odd. How to keep my own spiritual life alive, so I’m not just learning for the sake of teaching others. And so on.

Many people have spoken about the experience of ‘Preachers’ Monday.’ It’s not uncommon for preachers to feel vulnerable the day after they’ve delivered a sermon, and to experience the twin temptations of pride or despair.

  • Pride at having preached a great sermon, received positive feedback, and having seen ministry success. It’s no bad thing to celebrate a job well done, but often that can become unhealthy, where we end up reflecting on our own work, rather than God’s. It can lead to an overinflated ego, or even a feeling of spiritual invincibility, which means we drop our guard and find ourselves more vulnerable to other temptations. Somehow we may convince ourselves we’re allowed a pass, since we served God so well the day before.

  • Despair as we find that we can’t shake the thoughts about things that didn’t go as well as we’d hoped. That way we misspoke. How the illustration didn’t land quite right. How few people responded. How little affirmation we received. The discouraging face of that particular person in the fourth row. We can end up beating ourselves up, fixating on the failures, and feeling miserable, which in turn limits our ability to start the new week from a place of faith.

There is plenty of Biblical and spiritual advice I could give preachers about the perils of Mondays. But I often reflect on this from comedian Sarah Millican. I first heard it mentioned on the Comedian’s Comedian Podcast which, although designed for stand up comedians, has probably benefited me more in my preaching than it has in my comedy!

Sarah says this,

‘If you have a hard gig, quiet, a death, a struggle, whatever, you can only be mad and frustrated and gutted until 11am the next day. Then you must draw a line under it and forget about it. As going into the next gig thinking you are s*** will mean you will die.

Equally, if you nail it, slam it, destroy it, whatever, you can only be smug about it until 11am the next day (in the past, I have set an alarm so I could get up and gloat for an extra half hour) as if you go into the next gig thinking you are God’s gift to comedy, you will die. That is Millican’s Law and it totally works. It means you move on quickly.’

Sarah Millican

I think that’s some pretty good advice, although I prefer a 9am deadline. It means I can start my Monday with some early-morning prayer, where I can celebrate and give thanks, or jot down some learning points, and then give it all over to God. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but it’s a great goal to aim for.

And since I preached yesterday, I’m gonna post this quickly, so I don’t waste my final few moments before my self-imposed deadline!

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