If reporters interviewed pastors after worship as they do NFL athletes after Sunday games, I imagine I would step up to the podium and say:
”We gave it our best effort out there today but we came up short. Yes, I spoke about the second person plural of the Greek pronoun during the second point of my message and I felt sure it was going to connect. But when I scanned the room and saw a couple of the regular men asleep, I knew I had missed it. I hope to have a good week of preparation and come out stronger next Sunday. Thanks for your time.”
The truth is, I rarely feel good about my preaching on Sunday afternoons. Yes, I know who I am and I have learned who I am not (I have given up trying to be someone else). Over the years, I have developed many good habits for study and preparation ahead of Sunday. Nevertheless, I rarely do not feel gifted in the area of communicating God’s Word. I wish I witnessed more response to God’s Word when I preached. I feel weak more than confident most weeks. I imagine many of you are the same as well.
If you have feelings like me, here are some ways to improve your approach in the skill of preaching:
1) Admit You Need to Grow as a Preacher.
In order to improve our preaching, we have to be cognizant that we need to grow in the skill of preaching. I remember finishing my Master’s degree with a fair amount of confidence that I knew something about ministry and preaching. After only a few short months into the doctoral program, I was disabused of any such notion. I listened to discussions where I realized I was in way over my head. The same is true of preaching to the varied numbers of people every week. Having preached nearly every Sunday more than twenty years, I have a great deal to learn.
2) Find Men You Respect and Ask Lots of Questions.
Identify pastors and ask questions about their preaching practices. Ask questions such as, ”What works best for your memorization of the message? Do you manuscript or do you go without notes? What are some of your best habits of prayer as your prepare to preach? Tell me, how do you handle the conclusion of your message and the invitation? What length is your sermon series these days? How long are your messages? Do you read all of your Scripture passage at once or do you break the passage up in bit-size chunks around the separate points? How do you balance between Old Testament and New Testament texts in your preaching schedule? What do you feel is working for you right now?”
Adopt a mode of learning and ask lots of questions. Ask the Lord to bring people into your life to improve your ministry. Be sure to ask questions from those who have gone before you. Yes, the times were different for them but many of these men did our craft for decades. They have some insight they can offer for you.
3) Listen to Suggestions from Those Inside Your Church Family.
God has placed godly people around you who will offer their counsel if you listen. Sometimes the suggestions are subtle and it takes a special listening ear so that you do not miss their wisdom. There are people who are in your church who love you and respect you – they want the very best for you. They have spent years working in and around the church – they want the best for God’s church. Plus, they know the community and the church family closely. They have some tips for you, pastor, if you will listen.
Here is a current example from my life. I have a good friend in my congregation who loves me and loves the Lord. He has kindly suggested that I need to do a series on tithing. I have heard him speak of an important series on tithing from Pastor Phil Simmons, a former pastor in our church’s history, and how it impacted both his life and the people who listened to this teaching on the sensitive subject of money. While I have done a lot of fundraising in our church over the past seven years, I have yet to do a sustained series on tithing. Because I respect my friend so greatly and I know he has a desire to bless our church, I need to listen carefully to him. This means I need to ask careful questions of him such as, ”You are aware that I have touched on tithing on occasion but you think I need to do more? Where do you think the ‘disconnect’ is happening for many people?” Questions such as these help me better understand his diagnosis of both my preaching and our church family’s spiritual condition.