My hope in this post is not to tell preachers how to get better at preaching. I want to take one step back and talk about how to get better at getting better as a preacher. How do you improve at improving? How do you enhance at enhancing as a preacher? For me, there are two categories, the foundational and the practical. The foundational category transcends all age and skill levels. These are things that all preachers must keep in mind as they grow as a preacher. The practical category consists of a few things I try to do to grow and progress as a preacher.
Know the Gospel. This sounds obvious. But as preachers we can spend lots of our time preaching the Gospel to others, that we forget to preach it to ourselves. Humans are constantly assigning some kind of verdict to their lives. Good, bad, guilty, winner, loser, etc. We long for approval and validation. Those who preach the word of God week in and out often assign themselves a verdict based on how well the sermon is received or how widely God uses it. But we must know that preachers are not justified by sermons! We are made righteous and just solely through the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. We must continue to go back to this foundational truth over and over and hear our Father say, “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
Holiness. Holy preachers are great preachers. Wether God blesses your ministry numerically or not, if you are holy, you are successful by the Bible’s standards. There is no substitute for holiness. The gap between your private life and public life should be closed at all costs. Holy preachers, regardless of their gifting, carry a weight and an authority in the pulpit. So strive and labor to be holy at all costs.
Protect a high view of preaching. Everything else in your ministry is driven by and submissive to preaching. Leadership, vision casting, counseling, staffing, meetings, programs, small groups, etc., are all driven by the preaching of the word. There is no higher calling and privilege according to Martyn Lloyd Jones. You must protect this view of preaching. The grind of ministry will by nature tempter the passion and snuff out the flame to preach the word with vigor, depth, and enthusiasm.
Preach for God’s glory. Again, this sounds obvious. But preaching is a battle between two kingdoms, yours and God’s. You will preach for yourself or for God. You will need to constantly hit the refresh button on this area of your preaching.
Know you must grow. You must get better as a preacher. No one is immune to this. Regardless of how big your church is or how long you’ve been in ministry, growth as a preacher must take place.
Manuscript your sermon. I can already hear a few of my friends pushing back against this one! I know it sounds foreign to many of you. Trust me, this is not my preferred stye either. But it has helped my preaching significantly. Surprisingly, it shortened my preparation time. It focused me, streamlined my exegesis and application and illustrations, and made delivery much smoother. Try it for a month.
Get feedback loops in your life. You need feedback. You can too easily swindle yourself into thinking that you are preaching well. Ask your wife. Ask your friends. Give your members permission to critique your sermons. Ask other preachers to listen to your sermons. You will grow tremendously through feedback.
Embrace all criticism. Not all criticism is correct, but all of it is helpful. Criticism makes you think. Even if your critic is wrong, thinking about their comments and feedback will strengthen you as a preacher. So learn to lean into criticism. Don’t immediately take offense or write them off. Listen. Ask questions. Really see them.
Read and listen to other preachers. Be careful here. I am prone to mimicking and copying as are many of you. But we must learn from the experts. We must see how they handle certain texts and topics, how they deliver the sermon, how they prepare. This is where dead preachers are extremely helpful. Reading dead preachers is a near safeguard against mimicking. Who could, or would, preach like Jonathan Edwards or Charles Spurgeon?!
Define good preaching in your context. Many of us preach for a different set of ears. We preach with the conference listener in mind, the podcaster, or our heroes church. But God called you to that church and that people. He did not call you to John Piper’s church or Tim Keller’s church. He called you to where you are. No one can preach to your people the way you can. You know them. You’ve counseled them, encouraged them, wept with them. So learn how to preach to them not some imaginary listener.
Try something different. Preach longer. Preach shorter. Use notes. Don’t use notes. Use a podium or pulpit. Remove the podium or pulpit. Preach a different kind of series than normal. Avoid gimmicks and distractions, but do something to move you to an unknown area in your preaching. See what God does.
Balance warmth and authority. Some guys are bold and authoritative. Some guys are more gentle and warm. The hope is to combine both. We can’t always be warm and meek, and we can’t always be thunderous and authoritative. The text calls for different moods. Learn to balance both depending on the topic or issue.
Be content. God wired and geared you a certain way. Know your limitations. Be comfortable in you own skin and let God do with you what He wants. Be faithful where you are and with who you are. Always be learning and growing. But always rest in where God has you and who He made you to be.