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.

Be Yourself

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.

Hanniel Ghezzi


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    Under the submit to coaching paragraph, it might be added that the assembly develops a “system” in place to coach and receive constructive advice without tearing down or discouraging. That a speaker anticipates real feedback when they speak.


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    Good thoughts, good article. Interestingly, at least three of the seven tips relate to coaching or helpful critique. It is essential to learn, not only not to drop our voice or repeatedly say “um”, but to gauge how effectively we are communicating the Word. If I’m so detailed and deep no one understands what I’m talking about, how helpful is that? So a reliable mentor, friend, and/or wife(!) can be a real asset to the preacher, and then to the hearers as well.


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    It might be helpful to actually have someone video record you. Then you can also critique your mannerisms, while others focus on content.

    Also, this is just my personal opinion, but I always like when there’s some kind of personal application and challenge, not pure teaching for knowledge’s sake.


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    Nice work. The “embrace criticism” thing is easier said than done, isn’t it, brother? Especially when the truth is spoken in what doesn’t seem that much like love. It can actually be a useful exercise to pan through the harshest criticism for the nuggets of gold. I’ve actually gotten some of my best medicine from people who seemed to be spewing pure venom. The Lord has a way of speaking through our brothers and sisters, ay.

    To Sherri’s point, people are becoming less and less verbal in the way they “consume” information. More than ever, the presentation of a message is as important as the content. In fact, it IS content. I think about the great sermons of the past that were like essays. We still need sound outlines, solid references, good illustrations… But these days, there seem to be points for style. I sometimes use ordinary objects as visual aids: a 39 meter rope as the Kishon River across the auditorium. A bunt pan as an illustration of the “form of sound words,” a fire poker to remind us to “stir up our gifts.”

    Left to my own devices, I would be a nerd preacher. Lots of facts. Literary analysis. Blah, blah, blah. And I do some of that. But with the help of my critics, I have learned a thing or two about style.

    Thanks for your reminders, brother. Very helpful.


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    Good article brother. A few things I’ve learned in my preaching:
    1. Pray about the topic, pray about the content, pray about the structure
    2. Less is more – more can always be said but don’t
    3. Focus – one main idea but not a one point sermon
    4. Joy experienced when you are being directed by the Spirit
    5. Pray about the delivery
    6. Pray for those who will hear
    7. One time I prayed the night before that the Lord would bring out someone to the
    assembly that I was visiting that was not planning on coming. The first person I
    talked after the meeting told he was not planning on coming but changed his mind.


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    I believe the most important aspect when preaching, is that we have a message from the Lord and that we’re Spirit-led. There is always a danger that we start depending on our eloquence and a good memory. Read 1 Corinthians 2:4 – “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power”.

    Here are some points from my experience:

    -It is important to spend time with the Lord in prayer and not just getting our sermon together (Acts 6:4). The preparation of the messenger is more important than the message.

    -Be emphatic in your applications. There needs to be a clear message for the heart and conscience (2 Cor. 4:2).

    -1 Cor.14:3 says: “But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” Notice the word “and”, not “or”. Each message needs to have all of these components.

    -I have found that speaking on a passage of Scripture or chapter does more justice to the context of Scripture. There is a greater need for expository ministry in most assemblies. While topical ministry can be a great blessing, it can be harder for your audience to follow. For example, speaking on prophecy as a subject is more challenging for both speaker and hearers than speaking on, let’s say, the book of Daniel or Revelation. You can refer to other Scripture verses, but you always come back to your passage.

    -When I first started studying the Bible and preaching (about 28 years ago), I spent a lot of time in the Gospels. This gave me an appreciation for the Lord Jesus. I look back with thankfulness on those years.

    -Sharing the Gospel with unbelievers on a personal basis is a great help in learning how to express truth. This experience will aid you in preaching to Christians as well.

    -Read good books and commentaries on the Bible. It is God’s mind that we are taught by sound and godly Bible teachers through oral and written ministry. At the same time we know that ultimately it is the Holy Spirit in us who teaches us. We need the balance between 1 John 2:26,27 and Ephesians 4:11,12.

    -Last but not least: Everything we learn we need to give back to God in worship first, both privately and publicly. There are men we hear on the platform, but we never hear them worship or pray.


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    I’ve taken some public speaking courses for role at work and have been able to apply some of them to my preaching life as well. One of my favorites is to tell people what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve just told them. The repetition helps the message stick.

    Regarding illustrations, I think they definitely have a key part in preaching. If you think about how Jesus taught most of the time it was through parables, stories, or examples. One example that has stuck with me for many years was provided by Doug Pilgrim (aka Slick Stick) at Galilee. He was talking about the purpose of the law and equated it to a thermometer…it doesn’t help you get any better, just let’s you know you’re sick. That was close to 10 years ago, and I still think of his prop thermometer every time I read through Galatians.


  8. Gary McBride

    Thanks Hanniel good article.
    I also agree with the above comments so I will not repeat them here.

    In addition – a sermon must have a point – an idea to convey – a sermon without a point is a pointless sermon. The purpose of a particular message could be any number of things – it could be for exhortation or encouragement, conviction or challenge, didactical or devotional…
    The purpose of preaching should involve engaging the mind, touching the heart and moving the will. This is the flow – the mental to the emotional to the volitional.
    That is how the Bible speaks to us – we read and in the process think about what we are reading. The Lord wants it to be more than just facts but rather to move the heart, to develop feeling. Beyond that the truth is designed to change our behavior, to motivate us to action, the exercise off our will is faith in action.
    Gary McBride


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    In your study and in your presentation, try to focus on the “Big Idea”. If you don’t know what the big idea (the main theme) of a passage is, you are not ready to preach on it.

    Gibbs’ book is very good. A budding preacher should also read one good book about preaching every year. Some will deal with preaching on specific types of Biblical passages. Don’t believe everything you read in these books, but each will have some good points that will help you.


  10. Deb Bingham

    Such a good article and comments. With Sherri, Gary and Scott’s comments in mind, I personally prefer when the elders, who know the flock, choose systematic study/preaching. This would not preclude topical messages as the Holy Spirit should lead.
    Systematic teaching of books of the Bible would allow time for getting to the “Therefore”, ” I say then”s and the “Finally”s of the epistles, for instance; that is, the practical applications in the epistle. (Eph. 2:6;4:1;5:1;6:10, and so forth).
    I am happy to say that our chapel is doing some systematic teaching. We are finishing Hebrews now.
    Has anyone used ” Route 66″, an overview of the 66 books of the Bible?


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    “If you want to preach to the heart you need to preach from the heart.” I’ve been blessed by Tim Keller’s recent book “Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism,” especially since he practices what he preaches (or you say he preaches what he preaches…).

    I haven’t tried the video recording suggestion, but I have been in the habit of listening to audio recordings of my messages, to catch the bad habits (“um,” “you know”), dropping my voice at the end of sentences, etc. At first it felt egotistical but I have found it helpful. It’s amazing the things we say that are not what we THOUGHT we said!


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