Exhausted, Burdened, Yet Fulfilled

The “Joyful Burden” of Preaching
By Corey M. Minter

“There will be two songs, a prayer, and then it’s all you. You’ve never done this before? Ha! Well, hang in there!” I was standing at the front of the Union Mission chapel in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. I was 18 years old, recently enrolled in Bible college, and, aside from testimonies and devotions in front of my Christian school peers and youth group, it was the first time I had ever really preached to a congregation.

One of the men in the church helped fill the mission’s pulpit from time to time, and since he was out of town, he asked me to preach for him. To say I was nervous is an understatement.

I stood at the door and welcomed the men as they filed into the cramped chapel—all ethnicities, sizes, various life experiences lived out on the streets in one room. While different, all were souls who, for one reason or another, found their way to that place for that particular moment.

Almost everything I saw that evening reminded me of a quote I had heard or read. The room was nothing like a neat and clean church sanctuary. I recalled C.T. Studd’s “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” I also recalled Dr. Joseph Parker’s instruction to young preachers: “Always preach to broken hearts; you will never lack for an audience.” The men sprawled on benches in front of me matched their surroundings: worn and broken.

The chaplain followed his introduction with a stern warning: “This is his first time preaching, so I won’t put up with any nonsense tonight. No moving around, no backtalk. I’m serious, fellas!” Walking to the pulpit, I could hear the blood pulsing in my ears and Spurgeon’s tagline: “I believe in the Holy Spirit.”

I preached from Jonah, how the renegade prophet’s continual rebellion against God caused him to be numb toward God. But still, God spoke to him and used extraordinary means to arrest his attention: verbal instructions, unbelieving sailors, a great fish, the city-wide revival—even a gourd. Still, the book of Jonah (much like the life of Jonah) is the only book in Scripture to end with a question mark: “Don’t let your life and relationship with God end in a question mark.”

The men at the mission were kind. I heard a few outbursts and unusual noises, or at least not what I was accustomed to hearing, but by and large, they heard the gospel, and several responded. One man, not much older than me, approached me afterwards and said, “I’m Jonah.” For several minutes, he told me about his Christian home, faithfulness to church and youth group, and graduation from a Christian school. “But I’m numb to it all, and I don’t think I’ll ever get back into all that stuff.”

I pled and prayed with him a while longer, but he finally told me it was no use. We left the chapel together but went separate ways.

A few men caught me in the courtyard with several friends who had not made it to the service that evening; they asked me to preach again.

“Oh, I’ll definitely be back to preach, if they let me.”

“No. We mean right here. Go ahead. Preach right here.”

The request caught me off guard, but for the next 10 minutes or so, I stumbled through a sermon from Mark 4 on Jesus calming the storm…right there in the courtyard of the Union Mission.

After walking the few blocks to the parking garage, I jumped into my truck exhausted, burdened, yet fulfilled. I do not know another calling that promises those three simultaneous reactions, but preaching sure does. I was emotionally exhausted from the rush of adrenaline. I was burdened for the man who heard the call of God but decided to stay on the ship to Tarshish, but I was also strangely fulfilled. I had done what I knew God had been calling me to do my whole life: preach the Word.

While I am sure many of my preaching colleagues could point to a camp or college revival service when they answered the call to preach, I had no particular moment. Rather, it was a series of events and isolated decisions that led me to answer the call to preach I had felt for the majority of my life. While no one in my family had been a preacher, I really never questioned whether or not I would enter the ministry, only what avenue of ministry—missions, students, or pastoring. I felt a tug towards each, but no matter the area, I knew I would be preaching.

After serving in several full-time ministry roles, I have found that the consistent preaching schedule of a pastor is the most rewarding. A thousand sermons after that fall evening at the Union Mission, I feel the same emotions after almost every sermon: exhausted, burdened, yet fulfilled.

Preaching is exhausting. I do not know of any way to convey the toll preaching takes to someone who has never had the blessing of doing it. The whole week is spent in dedicated hours of reading, studying, pondering, and praying. Discovering the original intent of a passage takes a great deal of patience and work, but once prayerfully convinced of its direction, the difficult task of applying the Word to your specific congregation begins.


The call to preach, though tiresome and heavy at times, comes with the promise we are not alone. The mighty, awesome One is near, empowering us in the pulpit, preparing us in the study, and even dispensing joy in the darkened sanctuary after the last congregant has left.


Knowing you will preach to a group of people, each at differing degrees in their knowledge of Scripture and spiritual maturity, is just one of the difficulties that goes into sermon preparation. When you throw in the distinct needs of your congregants and what they have faced throughout the week, the pressure of being faithful to preach to the broken weighs heavily.

Several weeks ago, when I felt particularly eager to preach the sermon I believed God had laid on my heart, I was sitting on the pew, listening to the offertory, reviewing the passage of Scripture, and considering what I would say. Suddenly, my left wrist began vibrating, and I jerked in surprise. My smart watch heart monitor was notifying me of increased beats per minute. All of the week’s spiritual sweat ran together when I invited the congregation to open to the text; my whole body felt the rush.

When the last person leaves the altar, after the benediction has been prayed and the last handshake administered, it happens—the crash. The work of the week, the excitement of the moment, and the physical toll of spiritual warfare leave me exhausted and spent. I have fallen asleep sitting straight up in my office chair on Sunday afternoon, as well as on our living room floor after playing with my daughters on Sunday evening. Twice in Scripture, Paul likened his life and ministry to being poured out as a drink offering, and I believe he paints the perfect picture of the preacher spilling all of his efforts, education, and energy before God for the benefit of his congregation.

That exhaustion can be solved with intentional rest, but the burden of the sermon remains even after a good night’s sleep. In Paul’s personal record of his ministry in 2 Corinthians 11, he ranked his “deep concern for all the churches” among such sufferings as being beaten, shipwrecked, and stoned. We do not know everything that goes into that “deep concern,” but I imagine that it extended beyond concern for the persecution they faced to their spiritual wellbeing. 

While I have tried never to preach a sermon with an individual in mind, it is difficult to see someone who desperately needs to make a decision for Christ walk out the church doors seemingly unchanged after you have poured your heart out. So much of the study and sermon writing was directed at fulfilling the question: “How can I make this ancient truth applicable to my congregation?” If that person did not respond, one of two things happened: I failed or he hardened his heart. Either answer weighs the preacher down.

But the burden is not always troublesome. More often than not, the burden of preaching is actually a joyous one. It seems like an oxymoron, and to those observing from the outside, the idea of a joyous burden seems ridiculous, but I can think of no better way to explain it.

It is exactly what Paul wrote to the church in 2 Corinthians 6 when he relayed the idea that the preacher has the blessing of working together with Christ to preach “the day of salvation.” After listing his own couplets of ironies, Paul writes that we are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” How is that? Because God gives joy to the messenger, even when the message is not received. Perhaps this is what the Lord meant when He spoke through Isaiah, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

Regardless of whether or not anyone physically responds to the altar call (I still struggle not to score the “success” of a sermon based upon the number at the altar), God gives joy along with the burden for having done what He commanded. No one could be more appropriate to address this than the weeping prophet, Jeremiah. Having preached the Word of God faithfully with few listeners for decades, Jeremiah had reached his wit’s end. He was exhausted and burdened.

It all comes to a head in Jeremiah 20 where one verse argues with the next as Jeremiah debates with himself and with God over what he is called to do. He experiences self-pity, almost blaming God for making him preach to the nations. He regards his words as useless because no one listens. Finally, he tells himself that he will no longer preach, that he will “not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.”

This does nothing for Jeremiah’s exhaustion, and his burden only intensifies. While he tries to keep silent, God’s Word is “like a burning fire shut up” in his bones. He becomes weary of holding it back to the point he can no longer do so. He relinquishes control to God as he writes, “But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome One.”

The call to preach, though tiresome and heavy at times, comes with the promise we are not alone. The mighty, awesome One is near, empowering us in the pulpit, preparing us in the study, and even dispensing joy in the darkened sanctuary after the last congregant has left.

“Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God” was William Carey’s plea to his fellow preachers at the Nottingham Conference in 1792. It was also part of the charge to me at my ordination. Though I was uncertain then as to the “great things for God” I would attempt, I am convinced now more than ever that the greatest thing one can do in this life is to spend it exhausted, burdened, and yet strangely fulfilled, faithfully preaching the Word.

About the Writer: A graduate of Gateway Christian College, Corey Minter joined the staff of New Hope FWB Church in 2009 as student pastor. He accepted the role as lead pastor in early 2014. Corey and his wife Rachel have two daughters, Claire and Naomi. When not preparing sermons, Corey enjoys hiking, kayaking, and trying out new “local flavor” restaurants with his family.


< Return to PULP1T Magazine | Fall 2018