Can I Preach On It if I Haven’t Mastered It?

I received this email recently. It’s a question I’ve been asked before, so I decided to share my answer here.

Dear Pastor Ron,

Can I, as a pastor, preach about a subject that I know I’m struggling with or know that I’m weak in that area?

Blessings,

Pastor Bob

(Name changed for anonymity.)

Here is my reply:

Dear Pastor Bob,

In my opinion, yes. In fact you must in order to teach the whole counsel of God.

Consider the issue in simple terms. You preach about sin, right? If you are normal, you still struggle with sin also. You can’t avoid the subject because you haven’t mastered it. In the end, we preach the risen Christ as our only hope anyway.

Here’s another similar question I’ve heard. Can single pastors preach on marriage? Of course, single pastors can and should preach on marriage. Pastors should also preach on parenting even if they aren’t a parent. Again, it’s the whole counsel of God.

The key is you can’t claim expertise and you shouldn’t hide the fact that it’s an area of struggle. People will endear to you more if you are honest anyway. That doesn’t mean you have to share intimate details, but you shouldn’t hide your own frailty. Be honest with people, don’t pretend to be anyone you are not and preach where God leads you to preach.

God bless,

Ron

The fact is, if I could only preach on that which I have mastered, I wouldn’t preach very much. :)

So, how would you answer?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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25 thoughts on “Can I Preach On It if I Haven’t Mastered It?

  1. Good one! Experience is an edge, but it may do more harm than good if we do not couple it with God's word. No minister need to to have been a homosexual / drug addict / etc. to minister to the similar!

  2. Yes, you can. I was involved for several years in a Christian martial arts ministry. My sensei used to tell us that we will never master any piece of our arts; it's a journey and we will never get to the point where we have totally mastered that skill or kata or whatever. Still I could teach those skills to others and use those skills for self defense if called upon to do so.

    I do think that sometimes it depends on the audience and their level of understanding and your level of mastery of the subject. Some years ago, I took some computer networking classes at a local community college in order to get certification in that system. The instructor thought I did a great job and encouraged me to get certified to teach this. I did and I taught for awhile at that college. The college had partnered with some companies for training and they wanted me to teach the network engineers at a particular company about the new upgrade to the networking system. I declined. Although I was "qualified" I told the person that it's one thing to teach a group of individuals who know nothing or very little and something entirely different to teach a group whose knowledge was probably as great as mine or greater. I felt that I had nothing substantive to add to that conversation and that the company would have been paying for training at a level that I could not provide.

  3. This is a great topic, Ron. This is something I have struggled with in the past. At one point, I was involved in a ministry in which I was able to "teach" in a small capacity in a small Sunday school group setting. I found myself being intimidated teaching people who had been Christians most of their lives and I was certain that they were more qualified than myself to be teaching. Many of them were Bible College students on summer vacation. If I couldn't "master" the material by then next Sunday I felt that I was failing and not presenting the class with the caliber of a lesson that they deserved.

    Eventually I found it helpful to take a similar approach as Loren Pinilis (previous poster) did. Instead of me imparting the lesson to class and teaching them something that they didn't know, to be on an equal level with them as a fellow Bible student was so much more productive. The feelings of inadequacy were gone, and we were able to learn the material together.

    • Thanks Ryan. I can identify. I preached once to a church highly populated with "scholars" from a nearby seminary. Intimidating!

  4. There are is a definate plus and minus aspect to this issue, especially when the issue is due to a lack of experience. When I don't possess the experience of something (child raising, etc.), then what I say is solely based on God's Word, which is often a good thing because we sometimes allow out experiences to cause us to try to manipulate God's Word to fit what we have gone through. Yet, now that I am a father to 4 young girls, I feel my experience gives me a different "insight" to that truth and allows me to relate in a closer way to the other parents in the audience. I say all that to say this – that is why I preach with some reservation on subjects that I myself have not experienced – old age, loss of spouse, etc. because I've learned that it is different to experience it and that truth is often a great filter for the preaching and teaching of God's Word.

    • Great insight. I agree. I love what the parents of Samson said in Judges 13, "come teach us how to raise this child". But, also, as we mature, more is expected of us, such as with the elders in Joshua 3.

  5. Very good, Ron. I would go so far as to say you shouldn't be preaching anyway; the Spirit should be preaching through you. And last time I checked, He has mastered every subject.

    • Yes, that's true. Paul did use the language of him preaching though it seems. (1 Cor 1:23). For some reason He allows us to share His message. Pretty cool. He has mastered it for sure.

  6. If Pastors only preached on subject they have mastered I think we'd basically hear the same sermons over and over. I think there is a difference between knowing and doing. Our college classrooms are filled with Professors who teach subjects they have never actually done. They have studies these subjects and therefore they are able to teach others.

  7. There may be a slightly different dynamic to teaching in a small group setting, but I've found it works well for me to teach on areas where I'm struggling – and then to be totally up front with my struggles. When I portray myself as vulnerable, I think the walls get torn down and people begin to open up more. It all starts with vulnerable leadership. If I always teach on things I've mastered, then that stuffy, mask-wearing environment persists.

  8. Seems like my pastor often preaches on that which he needs to work through himself, and I respect him for that. That’s certainly why I write on a lot of the topics I choose to write about as well as why I choose many of the topics to teach on in the adult class. I think it adds a level of vulerability and authenticity that increases trust.
    Twitter: KariScare

  9. Thanks Ron
    It reminds me of a similar question I made once pertaining my job dilemma at the time. The man on the other side of the phone lovingly replied, "Was Paul wrong talking about marriage when he was not married?" That was very powerful insight. We should recognize our struggles, whatever they are, but talking about them will not only convict us but help us understand better where we stand, but more importantly what the grace of God does in us. Great post my friend!

    Blessings.

    DM

  10. To me, there could possibly be three possibilities:
    1. There is a true sin stronghold that a pastor might need to get counsel and support on (the easy one on this is if there's a controlling lust issue–should the preacher preach about it or get help/counsel or both?)
    2. Our own 'worst critic' situation: The pastor might feel bad about his track record in sharing his faith with folks, but he should still preach on personal evangelism (when I was in the ministry, this often was so helpful to get me over my own hump, not that I was sharing stuff solely for my own benefit)
    3. Just like you say, when are we truly masters of anything, right? We have to preach the Word from Genesis to maps and no doubt we always got learning to do.

    • Good thoughts. And, yes, there certainly could be issues the pastor needs to seek counsel on. I didn't take his question to mean that…just that he had not yet "mastered" it.

  11. Awesome!
    I always have though that when you preach, God is preaching to you to! You are included as His sheep, and you are speaking His word not yours.__