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