To the reader: I will suspend what I’ve been writing about on Fridays for the last several weeks to finish the discussion I began on Monday. Monday’s and Wednesday’s posts assume a fictional conversation with a young pastor who is concerned about the effectiveness of his preaching.
Hey! Good morning!
These are the big ideas I wanted to leave you with on Wednesday:
- Be yourself.
- Be a pastor, not just a “speaker.”
- Know that God can and use you even when you don’t feel great about your sermon.
I wanted to deal with attitudes you have about yourself as well as beliefs you have about God. I hope that I communicated them clearly. If not, talk to me about them, ok?
In 2 Timothy, Paul writes: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. – (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV). Paul is talking not only about the way Timothy lives, he’s talking about the way Timothy preaches. If you want to be an effective preacher, you need to care for both. And both of them are hard work!
You know that as a pastor you are constantly giving out to people. If you don’t care for your own spiritual needs, you’re gonna limit your ministry. You’re gonna run out of gas. So you need to cultivate your own relationship with God. You need to pray. And you need to have people in your life who are spiritual helpers. I wrote about this the other week.
Your feelings may differ, but I often used my preaching passage for my quiet time. When I was in Bible College one of my professors warned us against mixing our quiet time with our sermon/lesson preparation. He felt the two should be distinct. I don’t agree. Sermon preparation is a spiritual activity. I see no reason to create a dichotomy between our “quiet time” and our study. But that’s my opinion, and as a good friend says, “That and $1.39 will get you a cup of coffee.”
Anyway, here are two ways that I think will help you improve as a preacher:
First, as a young preacher, it’s helpful to listen to other men preach. Especially if they do it well (ha ha). Some men whose ministries I’ve appreciated in particular include Al Mohler, Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and R.C. Sproul. These guys are very from each other, but they are master communicators. And Alistair Begg has this fantastic Scottish accent. I’ve always thought if a preacher has an English accent, he can transform a “C” sermon into an “A.”
When you listen, pay attention to how other men handle things like introductions, illustrations, and conclusions. Do they use humor? If so, how? How long do they preach? What makes them compelling preachers?
Now a word of warning: like I said, you can learn a lot from listening to others, but don’t imitate them. You know – be yourself.
Second, read about preaching. Try to read at least one or two books on preaching each year, regardless of how long you’ve been doing it. We’re fortunate that there are so many helpful books on the subject.
- Tim Challies lists some Kindle books on his July 23 (2019) a la Carte column. In particular, David Helm’s book is very helpful.
- Searching Westminster Seminary’s bookstore yielded several dozen books on preaching. In particular, I would recommend Preach the Word, edited by Leland Ryken, Christ-Centered Sermons, by Brian Chapell, Feed My Sheep, by Don Kistler, The Archer and the Arrow, by Jensen and Grimmond, and Preach by Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert. I couldn’t seem to find the latter on WTSBooks.com but it is listed here at Amazon. I’ve left off some books that some would consider classics, and you should read those too, but these are basic books on preaching that will keep you focused on doing it right.
- Check in periodically with Proclamation Trust. While they hold conferences in the United Kingdom, they have good number of online resources.
- Subscribe to Expositor Magazine. If you look at the website, you’ll see why it’s a good investment.
These books and resources will help you develop sermons that are biblically sound and enable you to minister more effectively to your congregation.
Before we go our way urge you to make two commitments:
- First, commit to never taking a passage out of context. I have heard guys who have good things to say, but what they are saying has little to do with the passage they are preaching from. Make sure that somewhere in the preparation process you ask yourself, “Does my sermon accurately reflect the passage?” Or, to put it another way, “Are all my points derived from the text, or have I allowed myself to force the passage to fit what I want to say?”
- Second, avoid “seminary speak.” I’m not advocating that you avoid technical terms or difficult subjects. But remember who you are preaching to. If you are in seminary or have recently graduated, you’ve lived in a world that almost has a language of its own. It wouldn’t hurt to run your sermon manuscript through a grammar checker. There are several online, but ProwritingAid is the one that I’ve found helps the most. It’s a subscription service, but among other things it can tell you the reading level of your manuscript. Remember that you’re preaching to people with a variety of backgrounds and ages. You don’t want to be preaching over the heads of your people.
Well, we should probably get going. I hope that some of this has been helpful to you. As I have said, and will say often, I was an ordinary preacher in an ordinary church. I’m hardly an expert, but these are some things that were helpful to me.
We can talk again if you like. Thanks for getting together and thanks for picking up the tab for the tea and coffee. Have a great weekend!
Note to readers: What books have you found helpful? Are there any online resources that you’d recommend? Click on the title of this blog post if I a comment box is not right below and leave a comment for me. I’ll be glad to share your comments with other readers.