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?

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My Top 10

Top 10

We are closing in fast on the New Year. Soon it will be 2013 and 2012 will be a thing of the past. Before we venture into the New Year, a time of reflection is in order. With that in mind, today I want to highlight my top 10 posts from this last year. These are not my favorite posts, but yours.

How did I determine your favorite posts? Not through complicated metrics or surveys. I simple looked at the stats to see which ones were viewed the most by my readers. Some of these you may remember, others you may not. Either way, these were the ones you clicked on the most last year. Without further ado, here are my top 10.

#10 A Christian View of Social Justice

#9 The Sanctifying Work of the Holy Spirit (part 1)

#8 Thoughts on Seminary from a Graduating Seminarian

#7 Faith + Nothing = Salvation

#6 For He has Risen, as He Said!

#5 What Does it Mean to be Godly?

#4 Colored Eggs, Scavenger Hunts, or the Resurrection

#3 Christian Meditation: What is it and What does it Involve?

#2 Celebrate the Savior for He has Risen

#1 The Keys to Unity

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Thoughts on Seminary from a Graduating Seminarian

Today marks the last day of class for me in my seminary career. I will graduate from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on Friday with a Master of Divinity. As I reflect on my time in seminary, I want to share a few thoughts on what I learned from my experience:

1. Seminary requires you to be a good researcher and writer

In order to learn the trade well, it would be wise to spend time reading books on writing and research, knowing the better researcher and writer you become, the better speaker you will be. In addition, the better writer you become, the better reader you will be, helping you to better process the overwhelming material you will read during your time in seminary.

2. Seminary provides you with tools, it does not teach you everything you need to know

Receiving your diploma does not mean your studying is over. You could argue seminary is just the beginning of your theological education, giving you the ability to pursue further self-study.  In order to serve a church well, those graduating from seminary need to continue to study, research, and write, faithfully exercising the skills developed during their time in seminary.

3. Make an effort to develop good friendships 

Not only are you making friends for life, who will be a rock for you to lean on during your days in ministry, but you will learn more outside of the classroom in conversations with friends than during lectures. Since this is true, you should take as many classes as you can with your friends, and discuss the lectures and readings as often as possible. I have learned more, and been challenged more, during conversations with friends at Starbucks and over lunch than I would have if I solely relied on my personal study of class lectures.

4. Develop friendships with your professors

I have spent time getting to know several professors throughout my seminary career. These men have given me solid biblical advice, as well as challenged me in my spiritual life. It is worth it to put forth the effort to get to know a few professors on a deeper level.

5. Find a solid local church and pour into it

Don’t coast through your seminary career thinking you will minister when you take on your first church. Find a church now, plug in, spend as much time with the leadership there as you can, and minister to as many people as you can, even if it is not from the pulpit. In addition, you should give the church you attend during seminary the same opportunity to examine your calling to the ministry as you did your home church.

6. Buy as many books as you can

In order to find books at a reasonable price, spend time finding the discount book sellers in your area. A high concentration of seminary students equals a greater potential for a gold mine of cheap theology books to develop in your local used book stores. Visit these stores often; especially, at the end of a semester when other students may be unloading their unwanted books. What one student does not want, may be a gem to another.

7. Attend Conferences

Most conferences will allow you to attend at a cheaper rate while you are in seminary. Take the opportunity while you have it, knowing that traveling with friends and networking with other pastors from around the country is priceless. Not to mention, most conferences give away books like they are candy. It is not uncommon to walk away with 20-30 free books written by your favorite authors and speakers.

8. Set aside time for your wife

Seminary can easily dominate all your free time, so it is important you set aside time to spend with your wife, remembering she is your first ministry.

9. Make time for your personal relationship with the Lord

Even a theological education is no substitute for one’s devotional life. Setting aside time to do your daily devotion is crucial to your growth in the Christian life.

10. Plan out your semester

Nothing is more stressful than having to write three papers and study for two tests in the same week. In order to avoid that type of stress, setup a schedule and plan at the beginning of each semester  and stick to it. If you planned well, and started your projects early enough, you should have no problem turning in your best work with minimal stress.

11. Have fun

Seminary is a time for serious study and preparation for ministry, but it is also a time to enjoy life. Don’t always act so serious, and take the opportunity to get involved in intramural sports, as well as seek out a hobby other than reading. Always make sure to set aside time during the week to relax with friends and family.