10 Preaching Lessons from My First Year

Bible on Pulpit

Next week, I will celebrate my one year anniversary at my first church. Over the last year I have learned many valuable lessons, especially when it comes to preaching. Let me share with you some of the main preaching lessons I learned this last year.

10 Preaching Lessons from My First Year

(1) Be Yourself in the Pulpit

God has made us all different. Trying to sound like your favorite preacher will not work. Believe me, I have tried and I have failed. It is taken a year, but I am just now getting comfortable with being myself. It has made a difference in my preaching, as well as it has allowed me to connect with the people in a way I have not connected in the past.

(2) Get to Know Your People

The only way to know the questions your people are asking and the things they are dealing with in their personal, public, and family lives is to be around your people. If you want to make your applications pertinent, your illustrations connect, and the text come alive, you need to know your people.

(3) Use the Sermon Template You Get from Preaching Books, but Don’t be Afraid to Modify It

Most introductory preaching books and classes will provide you with a basic outline – Explain the text, Illustrate the text, and Apply the text – for each major point in your sermon. I believe that is a good rule of thumb, but don’t feel like you have to follow it to a “T”.

For instance, I have found that I can’t always think of an appropriate illustration for one of my major points. When I first started, I thought I needed one no matter what, so I would force an illustration in a section. The result was an awkward illustration that did not add much to the sermon. Over time and through loving, constructive criticism from my wife and others, I have learned that if I can’t think of an illustration, I should not force one.

(4) Know Your Time Limit and What Your People Can Handle

Don’t think you have to preach for forty-five minutes, or an hour, just because your favorite preacher does. If you can hold your people’s attention for twenty minutes, then preach for twenty minutes. If you can hold their attention for thirty or forty minutes, preach for thirty or forty minutes. Preaching to meet a self-imposed time limit is neither wise nor helpful.

Along with knowing your time limit, you should also be sensitive to what your people can handle. If they are accustomed to listening for thirty minutes, don’t come out of the gates on your first week preaching for an hour. It takes time for an attention span to grow. If you recognize this and slowly creep up to your target time limit, you will serve your people better and insure they will get more out of your sermons each week.

(5) Preach Different Genres and Both Testaments

Your yearly preaching schedule should include more than one genre and both Testaments. Doing so will not only help you develop your skills, but it will teach your people the importance of both the Old and New Testaments, as well as how to interpret all of Scripture.

(6) Limit Your Use of the Original Languages from the Pulpit

It is only natural to want to reference the original languages in your sermon. After all, you have probably spent several years in seminary talking through the text in Greek or Hebrew. While these languages should play a major role in sermon preparation, they will quickly cause your people’s eyes to glaze over if you refer to them too much. A wise preacher limit’s his use of them to times when they will help their people understand the text better.

(7) Commit to Preaching through Books

Working through a book from start to finish will serve to challenge both you and the congregation. When you commit to preaching a book, you are forced to deal with every verse in context. Doing so will help you grow in your understanding of Scripture, allow you to preach difficult and pointed texts your congregation needs to hear without feeling attacked, keep you from preaching only your interests, and give you a better chance of accurately interpreting God’s Word.

(8) Read Both Commentaries and Other’s Sermons, but Don’t Preach Them

Commentaries are a preachers best friend. They help us understand difficult texts and think of applications we may not have thought of otherwise. Likewise, reading sermons will help you to understand and apply the text, as well as help you to pull back from the technical nature of most commentaries and give insight into how best to structure your sermon. While commentaries and other’s sermons are helpful, it is important we don’t preach them, but do our own work.

(9) Don’t Forget the So What

It is important and necessary that we tell our people why the text matters to their life, how it applies to their situation, and how they might implement its teaching. If we don’t, we are not fully expounding the text and we are short-changing our people.

(10) Seek Out Constructive Criticism

Let’s face it, no one is a great preacher from the start, unless you are Charles Spurgeon. It takes time. I have found, however, you can increase your preaching skills more quickly by seeking out constructive criticism. My wife, friends, and trusted congregates all have given me feedback over the last year, which has helped me to right the wrong more quickly.

The goal is not self-glorification, but rather congregational edification. Removing those things from your preaching that hinder others from understanding the text is what you are after. There is no better way to understand what those things are than to ask those who are listening to your sermons.

Question for Reflection

  1. What would you add to my list from your own experience?



4 thoughts on “10 Preaching Lessons from My First Year

  1. As a lay-pastor, I have no experience and would not add. However, I would ask a question(s).

    A complaint a former member of one of my community groups correctly stated was that many sermons from the pulpit are “spiritual milk” and not meat. The sermons are scriptural and accurate concerning matters such as faith, fruits of the Spirit, and so on. However, some of the more challenging aspects of the faith (why did Jesus say “blessed is he, whosoever is not offended because of me”?), are never preached from the pulpit.

    Why is this? Is there a belief the congregation can’t handle the more complicated matters of faith? Should pastors push the congregation from the pulpit? Is it politics? Just curious as to what you perceive regarding this matter.

    1. Don,
      Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. I wholeheartedly believe we should press our people from the pulpit.

      I think the reason a lot of sermon don’t challenge folks are numerous. Here are just a few I can think of off the top of my head:

      (1) Not preaching through books.
      If you can pick and choose what texts to preach, you may end up staying away from the hard texts. That is one reason I have committed to preaching through books of the Bible. In doing so, I have to cover everything. The last few weeks have been particularly tough sermons. I have preached on Anger, Lust, and Divorce. Not necessarily because I have picked those topics, but because the text demanded it. I am currently working through chapter 5 of the Sermon on the Mount.

      (2) I think some people believe if they preach the hard sermons and really challenge their people, they may not come back.
      I do think some people may not come back, not because they can’t handle it, but probably because they were not Christians and the preacher wasn’t tickling their ears. I believe that if you are a true Christian, you will want to know what the Word of God says on every issue, you will want to know how it applies to your life, and you will want to change in accordance with Scripture.

      (3) Seeker sensitive churches.
      Their goal is to draw people in. Often preaching on topics that make people feel good is the way to do so. I believe the folks in this vein, while they have good intentions, miss the purpose of church – to teach and edify the people and worship God. Non-believers should not be our primary focus at our worship services. Yes, we need to address them, we need to preach to them, we need to tackle questions they may be answering, but they should not be the only focus on the service. Christians needs to grow. In order for that to take place, they must be fed by the Word.

      There are probably more reasons preachers don’t preach the hard sermons and don’t provide meat from the pulpit, but those are the first few that came to mind.

      Casey Lewis

  2. Well said Casey! Bravo!

    It takes guts to preach through the hard stuff, and I think your practice of working through an entire book is a great way of not dodging a thorny issue. And yes, it may cause some who’s ears aren’t itching enough to leave. But it always strikes me when those same pastors and preachers complain about the lukewarm nature of their congregation. When you only dispense milk, you get infants!

    I happen to currently attend a seeker-sensitive mega-church, not because I chose it, but because the Lord directed me to one. Although I would have never considered it prior to doing so (I didn’t have a positive view of these kinds of congregations), when I look at my gifts, it makes sense to me now. The one thing I like about this church, in spite of some contention lately in the community, is the focus on fulfilling its role as a visibly prominent projection of the church in general. The church recognizes that one of its primary purposes is to support numerous churches in the area as a “first step” for those timid seekers.

    However, with that said, it is a balancing act, and a difficult one at that. Although some move into a more mature relationship with the Lord, many languish on the doorstep of God’s house, never quite going away, but never quite committing either. The church’s recent stance seems to be moving towards a more rigorous preaching in an effort to force a crisis of consciousness. Predictably, attendance is dropping.

    Love the blog and the effort Casey. Keep up the good work!

    1. Don,
      Thanks for the encouragement. I appreciate it.

      Thanks for sharing your current situation. While my philosophy of ministry isn’t seeker sensitive, I do think their heart is in the right place, even if I don’t agree with their methodology. They are typically visible and prominent in the city, which is a good thing. As well as they are typically all about calling people to Christ and into the church. So there are certainly good things about the church you are attending.

      I also think you are wise to follow God’s leading, and to utilize the gifts the Lord has given you.

      I am encouraged your church is moving toward more rigorous preaching. I think you are right, your attendance will drop a bit, but those who stay will typically be those who are really seeking out Christ or truly committed to Him.

      Keep up the good work brother! Thanks again for reading my blog and commenting. I enjoy the interaction.

      Casey Lewis

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