Baptist preacher Jonathan Edwards shares some top tips
Every preacher should want to improve their preaching. And, even if they don’t, you can be sure that their congregation longs for it to happen!
If you’re a preacher then here are some tips, and if you are not a preacher then here’s a list of things that you can pray for those who preach to you.
1. Live closer to God
Perhaps you thought that I’d begin with some amazing oratorical techniques that you could adopt? But no, preaching is all about enabling people to get closer to God and you will be useless at that unless you are living closer to him yourself.
Make sure that before you even start to write a sermon you are letting God speak to you. Give time to listen to him before you dare to unleash a sermon on anyone else. You will need to give God what is popularly called 'quality time'. That’s protected time when you are all ears for what God has to say to you.
2. Read the Bible passage a number of times
Preaching needs to be firmly rooted in the Bible. It isn’t an opportunity for you to share your latest bright ideas, but a moment to help people to hear what God is saying to them. So don’t just read a Bible passage once. Read it a number of times and ideally over a week or so.
Listen to what that passage is saying to you, and then try to imagine what it is saying to the people to whom you will be preaching. Think what it will mean to the healthy, the sick, the unemployed, the employed, the retired, the disappointed, the successful, the depressed and the happy (don’t assume that everyone is just like you).
3. Do some digging
When you have thought thoroughly about the passage spend some time reading what other people have said about it.
Bible commentaries are an incredibly valuable resource for preachers. I normally read three or four of them, and it is best if they bring different perspectives. Time and again I find that they bring insights to me that, with embarrassment, I have to confess hadn’t even occurred to me.
Dig in other places as well. Get hold of books on the theme(s) you're exploring, which may help you to reflect more deeply on the subject.
4. Ask other people
Preaching is a community activity. It may look like a solitary pursuit but that’s the last thing it should ever be. You have the privilege of sharing what God is saying to you in order to bless the whole church and so it’s really important to listen to what God saying to other people.
If you are, for example, going to preach about prayer why not ask a number of people “What’s your biggest struggle with prayer?” or “In what way has God spoken to you recently?” Then your sermon can be tied in with people’s own experience of prayer and not just your own prayer life.
5. Listen to the news
One of the frequent criticisms of preaching is that it is disconnected from the real world. That should never happen! It’s helpful if you are aware of what is happening in the world and can, therefore, help people to think through their response to current events.
The pandemic is causing us all to reflect on the fragility of life. The challenge of climate change encourages us all to reflect on our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s creation. The appalling presence of discrimination in our society helps us to reflect on a God who values every single person.
Karl Barth, the famous theologian, encouraged all preachers to have the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. It’s not always easy to see how they relate to one another, but it is a preacher’s duty to get down on their knees and try to work out the connections.
6. Expect God to speak
There’s a church I know which has three words outside the building – ‘Where miracles happen’. That tells me a lot about that church and their expectation of what will happen when they get together. I love that. Every church should be a place where miracles are expected because we serve a God of miracles.
I believe that many miracles take place when a sermon is being preached. God will often challenge and convict people during a sermon. Interestingly, the way in which people are touched by a sermon is often very different from what the preacher anticipated. God is at work and so we should expect the unexpected. That means that we should all be confident that God will speak when a sermon is preached.
7. Get feedback
In my experience most people who respond to sermons are very positive in their comments. That’s very pleasant and much appreciated, but it would be dangerous if any preacher only listened to positive comments.
If you are a preacher and you preach to the same congregation on a regular basis it would be wise to find two or three people who love you enough to be honest with you. Let them tell you about the ways in which God spoke to them through your sermons, but let them also tell you about the illustrations which misfired, the parts of your sermon which were unclear and the application which didn’t really connect.
8. Thank God!
And never forget to thank God for the awesome privilege of preaching. It is one of the most exciting privileges that God ever gives to a person, and so anything that you can ever do to become a more effective preacher should be grasped with both hands.