Contrary to what your first ever audience told you about how great your first sermon was, you still need to get better at preaching.
Pride tells us that, somehow, we are naturally gifted at preaching and should just keep doing what we are doing. But humility and a basic understanding of how we steward the gifts God has bestowed upon us would tell us that no matter how naturally gifted we are, we still need to get better at preaching. The good news is there are three simple steps we can all commit to to get better. They aren’t a hidden formula or some special secret sauce to microwaving our growth, but the same things you would do to improve any skill in your life.
Do the Hard Work (Preparation)
How simple and easy it is to hold up the preachers we admire in our present-day, and throughout history, as the greatest orators and gospel communicators. But I don’t know of one, that I respect, that didn’t pour their very selves into their preparation. You may recall the stories of Charles Spurgeon, perhaps the greatest English speaking preacher ever, pouring over the word of God for hours, agonizing in prayer as he prepared his message, writing out a full transcript and learning it so he might be able to proclaim the way of salvation through Christ alone simply and clearly.
If you want to get better at preaching, make the time in your preparation to take the message of the biblical text deep into your own soul so you might be transformed by it before crafting the message to your people who need this Good News. Not only preach as a dying man to dying men (Richard Baxter) but prepare to preach as a dying man who has the words of life to give to those who are perishing outside of them.
Learn — and Learn Some More — From Your Weaknesses
There’s nothing more cringeworthy than a preacher who has no awareness of his own weaknesses. Maybe they aren’t great at telling stories, finding helpful illustrations, or using dynamic inflection in their voice. It just feels off. Bryan Chappel, the author of Christ Centered Preaching says, “If the manner doesn’t match the message, it is the manner that will be believed and not the message.” This truth holds firm with those who are not aware of their own weaknesses. So listen to the feedback you receive from your church, your elders, or trusted counselors, it might sting, but it is required if you want to be a better preacher.
Once you are aware of your own weaknesses, and this should go without saying, learn from them. There are plenty of resources out there — books, training, conferences, and formal theological education — avail yourself to them.
Preach (a Lot)
Before they stood before thousands of people in influential pulpits, Tim Keller spent many years preaching multiple times a week not in the bustling metropolis and center of culture that is New York City but in less influential environments, Rick Warren started out street preaching, and Charles Spurgeon preached in people’s living rooms. What they did, and what we all must do if we want to get better as preachers and grow in our abilities to articulate the greatest news ever told, is preach over and over again in every possible forum.
It’s no secret that famous preachers are gifted — some maybe more than we’ll ever be — but they didn’t get to be the polished and gifted preachers we look up to by osmosis or some hyper-spiritual anointing. No, they preached, and preached, and preached, practicing the first two steps over and over again until the gift the Lord bestowed upon them matured into what we see today. And the stark reality is, continuing in these practices will, by God’s grace, allow for their continued improvement, and ours as well.