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inadequacy – brad carr


I feel it every time I get down off the stage having preached a message from the Word of God. It’s a familiar feeling, like slipping into a well-worn pair of shoes. But unlike the shoes, it doesn’t feel comfortable or snug.

It’s that sense of inadequacy – the feeling that no matter how hard I have tried, I can never do justice to the text or to its Author. At times it may be an overwhelming sense of failure after a particularly bad sermon (we’ve all been there, haven’t we?), but often it’s just a nagging ache in the soul. A sense that while I have given God my best, it’s not enough. No matter how many compliments I may be given or encouraging words I hear, there is always this feeling that there is so much more I could have done if I was more gifted or more Spirit-led or had more time.

Talking to other preachers that I know suggests that I am not alone with this feeling of inadequacy. It seems to be a recurring emotion for many of us. And I have spent time over the years trying to reflect on where this feeling comes from, and whether it’s healthy or not.

Is this a spiritual attack; an attempt by the Enemy to thwart the teaching of God’s Word?

Is this a subtle indication of a perfectionistic bent in my own personality?

Is it simply the inevitable feeling of exhaustion that a performer might feel at the end of a show?

It’s certainly possible that this feeling I live with could include all of those causes. But I have come to realise that at the heart of it is a healthy realisation that there are depths to God’s Word that I will never comprehend or communicate as a limited, finite, sinful person. And equally, no matter how eloquent or clever or creative I try and be as a preacher, in the end it is still the Spirit’s work that brings transformation to people’s lives.

That doesn’t mean I don’t strive to understand the text to the best of my ability, or work hard at crafting a big idea, or sweat over the best way to apply God’s Word to the lives of all of us sitting under it together. But while I will never be comfortable with this feeling of inadequacy, I have started to see it as a healthy emotion – a recognition that I am inadequate; that in Paul’s words I am a jar of clay trying to display the light of his glory (2 Cor. 4:7).

What has helped me in this area is some words from the epilogue to the second edition of Haddon Robinson’s masterful book on preaching. I have put these words up on the wall above my office desk, and they have been immensely helpful to me. I offer them to those who, like me, wrestle with this deep feeling of inadequacy:


Face it: When you have done your utmost,
it’s simply not enough.
At best, you may have two small fish and five rolls.
(All right, if you’re really gifted,
you may have three fish and an extra roll or two).

But you never have enough to feed the multitude. . .

In the final analysis there are no great preachers.
There’s only a great Christ who does startling things
when we place ourselves and our preaching in His hands. . .

Even on our best weeks we have only some fish and bread.
But we serve the living Lord.
Give Him your small lunch and trust Him to feed His people.

(Biblical Preaching, 2nd edition, pp.223-224)

brad carr – taking a break

At the risk of creating envy in some readers, I have to admit that I am writing this column a couple of weeks into a six-week sabbatical. The elders of our church have taken a very loving and proactive approach to caring for their pastors, and my family and I are currently enjoying the fruit of that.

But as I’ve rested and had fun with my family these last couple of weeks, and exegeted the writings of Tom Clancy and John Grisham, I have also enjoyed the chance to slow down and reflect. One of the things I have been thinking about is the rhythms of my life and ministry and our church, and whether I am living and leading in a healthy way.  It’s especially made me think about the rhythms of preaching.

Those who occasionally preach may not appreciate this, but for those of us who preach regularly or carry the primary responsibility for that in a local church, preaching drains us. At least it drains me. And that’s not because I’m not primarily gifted for that task or don’t enjoy it – I find in fact that one of my greatest loves in ministry is preaching. It’s simply that the task of proclaiming God’s Word demands much from me.

I think Reuben Munn from Shore Community Church summed it up best at a recent conference I was at with him, when he said preaching regularly is like giving birth on Sunday, only to find out you’re pregnant again on Monday! Although I have found that if I am preaching the next three or four Sundays in a row, I am carrying each of those messages around inside me, each of them with a different due date!

And over time, that on-going rhythm of studying and shaping and communicating drains me. That’s where I have been in the last few months leading up to this sabbatical – feeling like the tank was getting low, the gauge was close to empty and it was time to pull over and refuel. And what I’ve found is that I notice that sense of emptiness most in the creative side of preaching. Even when I’m drained, I can still dig into a passage of God’s Word and get excited about what I find. But it’s in the challenges of communicating those truths – in the application and illustration and creativity – that’s where I notice that my tank is running dry and I need to take a break.

So short of taking a sabbatical every second week, how do those of us who preach regularly build rhythms into our ministries to give us the breaks we need to refuel? I have some key rhythms operating in my life already:

  • I preach about two thirds of the Sundays from Feb to Christmas, which means that one out of every three Sundays I have the privilege of sitting at the feet of someone else. That not only gives me a break, it feeds me spiritually as well.
  • In addition, I have personally found it extremely helpful to try and place two of those team members side by side in the preaching schedule, so that I get two Sundays off preaching in a row, even if that means I then have three or four on.
  • Annually, I generally prefer not to preach over January. It’s a great opportunity to allow others to preach, while I prepare for the coming ministry year and enjoy some time with the family.

But I’m sure there are other ways of approaching this issue; other rhythms that people find helpful for taking breaks and restoring their souls. I’d love to hear from other preachers, especially those who carry the primary teaching weight, as to how they take a break and refuel when they need to.

brad carr: all scripture is useful . . . really?

One of the things I noticed growing up in the church, and have continued to notice ever since, is the tendency of many pastors / churches / leaders to have a “canon within the canon.” What I mean is that we tend to hug the parts of the Bible that we are more familiar with, and more comfortable communicating.

This is especially ironic among strongly evangelical churches such as my own. We make a great deal of noise (quite rightly, I think) about verses such as 2 Tim 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” But while we may hold strongly to that belief, we don’t always hold as strongly to what the rest of the verse states, “… and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

Really? All Scripture is useful? Do we really believe that? Do we honestly think that Numbers or Zephaniah or Revelation are as useful for our lives and the lives of our people as Psalms or Mark or Romans? Or do we end up with an “Animal Farm” view of the Bible – “All Scripture is useful . . but some parts are more useful than others.”

What creates this canon within a canon?

I can think of a handful of reasons off the top of my head:

  1. We don’t feel as competent in some parts of Scripture (I mean, if you were choosing between the gospel of John or Revelation, which would you choose?).
  2. We minimise the importance of the Old Testament to our faith (because we are ministers of the new covenant, we often don’t quite know what to do with the laws and regulations of the older covenant).
  3. We get intimidated by the cultural and historical chasm between certain parts of the Scriptures and our world today (to use John Stott’s metaphor of preaching as bridge-building, it feels like the span between Leviticus and our world is just too big).
  4. We’re unsure of how to apply some parts of the Bible to our congregations (how exactly do you apply oracles of woe from the prophets, or holy war narratives from Joshua and Judges, to dentists, lawyers and homemakers today?).

I’m sure others could add to the list. All of those reasons are very real, and make the challenge of preaching from the lesser known parts of the Bible even more challenging. And yet if what 2 Timothy 3 says if true, that all of Scripture is useful for teaching and rebuking and training God’s people, then I would argue that it’s worth the effort to delve into the lesser known parts of the Bible. Otherwise our congregations are missing out on learning significant lessons from whole sections of Scripture.

A few years ago our church elders decided to venture into deeper waters and allowed me to try my hand preaching through the book of Numbers. It was an exciting ride, into a book I had never studied in-depth or taught publicly. At the beginning of the series, I asked for a show of hands of how many people had heard any teaching from Numbers. In an audience of around 120 adults, no hands went up. Yet by the end of our journey with Israel through the wilderness, we had developed a far deeper appreciation for this often ignored narrative. We saw ourselves in Israel’s complaints and inconsistencies; we were challenged to have the faith and trust of Caleb and Joshua; and we were reminded in a new way how faithful God is.

Oh, and we learned that even Numbers can be useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

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Brad Carr is the husband of Rochelle, father of three boys, and lead pastor of BotanyLife Community Church in East Auckland, a church they helped to plant in 2004. Brad is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a contributor to the One Step Ahead preaching course.