5 Thoughts for Preachers about Preaching!
Every so often a new preacher will ask me for advice on preaching. That’s always a bit humbling. I have my own method of preparation and delivery and it is unique to me, and probably shouldn’t be copied. Yet, over the years I’ve spent a lot of time looking for advice on how to get better at the craft of preaching. And that’s what it is, a craft to develop and not a science to perfect. I’ve heard a lot of great sermons but not one perfect one. We can all get better at this art and craft of preaching.
So, are you still looking for the secret to a great sermon or message? Sorry, I don’t believe there is one. You can read a lot of books, attend a multitude of seminars, and even get an advanced degree in homiletics and not find the one secret to a great sermon. Sorry! But, please keep reading. I’m not going to give ‘The Secret,’ but I will give you five things I think about when preparing for the preaching experience. These are not the only things I think about, not by any means, but they are five good ones to keep in mind. Especially if you’re just starting out in the craft of preaching.
- Read widely. We are all tempted to read only those authors we already agree with. Don’t do that. Read widely. Intentionally read perspectives that differ with yours. Read from across disciplines. Don’t limit your reading to theology or biblical studies. Now of course you should read theology and biblical studies, but also read the sciences, the humanities, philosophy, history, business, biography, and be sure to throw in some fiction as well. And whatever happens, don’t fall into the temptation to stop reading altogether. I’ve heard some pastors say that they haven’t read a book since seminary. I think that’s sinful! Keep reading! Keep learning!
- Listen carefully. Listen to the conversations around you. Not in a creepy nosy way. But listen deeply to what you are hearing. Listen for the heart cries of the people around you. Listen for the concerns, hurts, and hopes of the people that you meet. In the grocery store, in the coffee shop, in the fellowship hour at church, people will share their hearts and concerns. And that is gold for preaching. Ask some powerful questions, open ended questions, and listen deeply to their responses. Let this experience lead you to Scripture where God will address their experiences.
- Prepare diligently. Every preacher does this a little differently. I’ve known some preachers who spend over 25 hours a week crafting their message, and others who do it well in about five hours. More important than the total amount of time is how diligently you approach the craft. Are you seriously and intentionally working with the text? Are you interpreting it appropriately? Are you able to connect the text, topic, and issue to the congregation adequately? Be diligent in your approach! And, please don’t be like one preacher I knew who just downloaded sermons from the internet. It’s too easy to be fact-checked today. Somebody will google your sermon and then you’ll lose credibility. If you don’t have time to diligently prepare a message this week, then ask somebody else to preach.
- Share wisely. The temptation seems to be two-fold; to share nothing or to share everything. Neither is appropriate. Share wisely. The new buzz words are ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency.’ And they have been incorporated into the preaching experience. And that is awesome. It’s great for effective preaching. It is increasingly important to share appropriately from your own walk with Christ. Your own thoughts, doubts, and experiences are great bridges for connecting with the congregation in a way that helps them engage the Scriptural truth you are presenting. But you can easily overdo it. Be careful and share wisely. For example, you can and ought to share that you’ve struggled with sin in your life. But you shouldn’t get into the gory details of your sinful past. Over sharing and inappropriate sharing will distract from the primary message you want them to remember and act on. Appropriate sharing will help the congregation connect with you, and more importantly, to connect with God. So share, but share wisely.
- Respond gracefully. Remember this, whatever response you get from the congregation, you should respond with grace to them. They may need a lot time to mentally and spiritually process the message. They may have been distracted by some situation at home or work that kept them from engaging the message this week. And it may well have changed their lives forever, but they haven’t realized it yet. You’ve spent all week, or longer, with this particular message and they’ve just heard it for the first time. Give them time to consider it, to ponder it, to let the message settle in with them. They’re reactions may or may not be tied to the actual message. Also, don’t take compliments or criticism too personally. I know it’s easy to say, ‘don’t take it personally.’ But seriously, don’t. Be graceful in your response to their compliments, and their criticism, while being consistent in pursuing the craft and art of preaching. Don’t find yourself preaching for compliments or to avoid criticism.
So let’s commit to pursing the craft and art of preaching together. Let’s commit to getting better at this holy calling. And remember to always preach the Gospel, preach the Good News, preach the Word, as well as you possibly can!
I hope this has been helpful and inspiring to you! How will you intentionally pursue the craft of preaching? And if you are not a preacher, well first, kudos for reading this far, how will you help your preacher get better (in a helpful loving way)?
Grace and Peace, Rich
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