“You’re putting on your preaching voice!” The critique came unfiltered from a harsh critic and it was not meant as positive feedback. I had been thrust into preaching to a congregation of several hundred every single week and had preached maybe six sermons with no training, no support, and no oversight from a seasoned pastor.
It will come as no surprise that I was out of my depth. The church began to shrink. Walking in my shoes or extending understanding, kindness, and grace seemed to be the last thing on anyone’s mind as the parting shots were fired. Questions about my calling and why I was even doing this rolled through my head on repeat and I thought about leaving many times.
From Doubt to Growth
If you are a young pastor, ministry leader, or aspiring preacher, you will need to grow, though hopefully not in the trial by fire way I had to. From my experience, there are three major areas an aspiring preacher needs to develop in order to become a “whole preacher”. One area should not be neglected in favor or another to avoid becoming misformed like a gym junkie who forgets leg day.
1. Head: Theologically Sure
At the first church I ever attended, I asked one of the pastors who had newly begun preaching what his views on soteriology (salvation) were. He responded that he didn’t know. That was kind of concerning, but I think it is an all too common response in new preachers. There’s a philosophy of evolving your theology as you preach. It happens as the Bible text does its work in you through the Spirit, first and foremost.
But never should a man step into a pulpit before they are sure of their theology – not just the primary but also the secondary matters. You are to lead your people in the development of their theology, you cannot be unsure of yours. You must be convicted of the Truth and all that the Lord commands. If you are not, step out of the pulpit and study until you can, with a clear conscience, be sure of your positions. This doesn’t mean you might not adjust a viewpoint on a secondary issue as the years go by, but it is unwise to start from a place of not having a biblically formed view of your theology.
2. Heart: Faith Believed and Embodied
It is far too easy to preach what we know and not what we believe. Even harder is it to preach what our lives truly embody. But if we are to preach and lead, our messages can not be just our convictions separated from what we live out.
The old adage, “If you want to know who a man truly is, see what he does when he thinks no-one is watching,” holds true here. If your message calls for belief and faith in action to something you refuse to do or are not currently practicing, you need to warm the bench while you become the same man in the dark as the one under the lights, preaching.
My worst messages are not the ones where I misspeak or stumble over my words. They are the ones I know I preached as someone divorced from who I truly am. If there is this divide in you, take the time to nurture your soul and your life in Christ before you retake the stage.
3. Hands: A Developed Gift
There seem to be two camps in this category: those who only develop their rhetorical style and ability to move a crowd and those who reject growing in style completely.
To be a whole preacher you must grow here but never be over-focused on your style. Rather, develop the gift the Lord gave you to reach people for Christ. There are things you can do to be a more compelling preacher or a less compelling one. The message remains the same, but the man must mature, grow, and fan into flame the gift given to him (2 Tim 1:6).
The Learning Always Continues
Becoming a whole preacher is a lifelong endeavor, but it is surely a great task to undertake. In this effort you will encounter the Lord at every turn, you will stir your passion for the Lord, the love for his people, and burden for the lost.
Spend some time in self-assessment. Invite older, trusted counselors into the process and commit yourself to growth for the glory of God, the good of the world, and the joy of your soul. Then continue the journey of growth as a preacher of the Good News. After preaching “full-time” now for about six years, I have begun to find there is less discrepancy between my own voice and my preaching voice, and while it has been challenging to grow, it is a great joy to see my progress (1 Tim 4:15).