7 Preaching Tips I Wish I Had Known Before I Started
A unique feature of assemblies is the way that we develop preachers. What other arena permits young men to participate at the Lord’s Supper, lead a Bible study and, finally, preach from the platform? I’m grateful to the first brother who took a chance on me in my teens when he asked me to give a ten-minute sermonette.
I’m now 36 and have been preaching for half of my life. When I began preaching in my teens, I already possessed an appreciation for Christ-centered Bible study and the priesthood of every believer thanks to the men who had discipled me. However, there are other valuable lessons I have learned since then – some being more painful than others! There are many other points that can be taken into consideration, but I hope that these tips will be beneficial to budding preachers.
Humbly Accept Your Gift
If Timothy was exhorted by Paul to accept and develop his gift (1 Tim. 4:14), then so should we. It was a humbling thing for me to be asked to share the Word for the first time, since I knew that there were more qualified speakers than myself. Internally, I told myself that I would never be as good as so-and-so.
However, this alleged modesty on my part resulted in complacency. False modesty is pride and it can ensnare us. For the first decade of my preaching ministry, I was either remarkably consistent or just not getting better! By the grace of God, I kept getting invited to speak. “A man’s gift makes room for him” (Prov. 18:16).
Submit to Coaching
A mentor can help the protégé wield the sword of the Spirit more effectively. In recent years, I have greatly benefited from submitting my sermon notes to more experienced preachers for review. After all, “who can discern their own errors?” (Ps. 19:12, NIV). I am blessed to call such brothers my friends. In every assembly, there is at least one brother who is gifted in teaching. Consider approaching such a brother to coach you as you prepare your sermon. Typically, they will graciously make time for you and share with you some of the lessons they have learned.
Refine, Refine, Refine
Before I prepare a message, I always pray that the Spirit of God would refine my content and remove the unnecessary components. It’s always good to remember the KISS principle, “Keep it simple, stupid”. Young preachers sometimes fall into the trap of preaching directly from their study notes, which yields a convoluted sermon that can alienate the audience in the process.
Seasoned veterans, such as Bill Yuille and Willie Burnett, excel in the practice of refining their study notes into a comprehensive script after which they refine their script into concise platform notes. As long as you don’t plagiarize, there is nothing wrong with listening to good speakers preach on your topic if it helps you develop your thoughts. Voices For Christ is an excellent resource for such activity (www.voicesforchrist.org).
Use Good Illustrations
I relate to an illustration in the same way as I relate to Disneyland: it’s nice to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. While the spiritual focus must be on the meat of the Word, a good illustration can assist in garnishing that meat. Consider the following metaphor (attributed to Spurgeon) describing the benefits of good illustrations: “The chief reason for the construction of windows in a house is…to let in light.” Remember how effective the Lord’s illustrations were. The Lord related to shepherds, housewives and fathers all in the same discourse (Lk. 15)!
Each of us has been blessed with a unique life. Nobody else has the experiences you have. My unique experience begins with my birth to crosscultural parents and a childhood spent in two different countries. But it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I appreciated the value of a good illustration. Now that I’m married with children, it seems that I can’t keep up with the illustrations that come my way!
Embrace (most) Criticism
Most places I’ve visited appreciate youthful ministry but be prepared to receive a critique. Such feedback may require thick skin! However, once you get past the initial sting of criticism, process the thought and consider whether the criticism is constructive. If it can be proved that you have given inaccurate information in your message, such criticism may save your ministry! However, there are occasions when the criticism is unfounded and you may need to defend your point. As such, do so graciously. Remember that you’re likely to be younger than the other person and, if you’re visiting, you’re there as their guest.
Read Christian Bios
If we expect people to learn from our example, then we need to be in the practice of learning about those who came before us (1 Cor. 11:1). The biographies of spiritual giants as Harold St. John, R.C. Chapman, Hudson Taylor, Jonathan Goforth, and others have refreshed my ministry, especially when I’m tempted to feel cynical. One of the side benefits of reading such biographies will be certain anecdotes which you can use for your own sermons.
This sounds obvious but if you’re like me, you grew up listening to great preachers. Inspired by them in my ministry, their influence even crept into my delivery, even to the point of my imitating their speech patterns and mannerisms! One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve been given was by a Christian colleague of mine to whom I would bounce off ideas for sermons. On more than one occasion, he told me to “explain it to them like you just explained it to me”. Don’t be theatrical. Just act natural, and the audience will follow the Spirit’s leading.
Obviously, this list is not exhaustive but I would love to read posts of some of the lessons you have learned along the ministry trail.