My preaching experience includes 100+ sermons in my 2.5 years of being a pastor to high school students/young adults in Fremont and another 100+ sermons in my first 3 years of being the Lead Pastor of theMOVEMENT Church in Oakland.
Many pastors have preached many more messages than I have, but in an effort to become a more effective communicator (and maybe help a few other preachers who may come across this post), I thought it would be beneficial to reflect on some of the lessons I have learned over the last 5+ years of preaching the good news!
- Good News > Great Advice. Though I want my messages to be helpful, I am more concerned with my messages being powerful. With that in mind, for me, if a message doesn't conclude with extolling the finished work of Jesus Christ as the true source of power for all life change, I have not preached...I have, merely, given a talk. (Romans 1:16)
- Find energy in text. Bring energy to text. My best energies in my message should not be given towards jokes, illustrations or personal anecdotes. Instead, in my study, I must find where there is energy, movement, and momentum in the text of Scripture and then I need to bring my energy, creativity, and enthusiasm to that text of Scripture. The source of life is not in my stories, the source of life is in the Word! (Psalm 119:25)
- No burden. No bueno. The more in tune I am with the consequences of not obeying/applying/understanding what I am about to preach, the more ready I am to preach. The more my heart is broken for the people who need to hear the message I am about to bring, the more ready I am to bring it. If I am not aware of the sense of urgency to my message there will be no sense of urgency in my message. No burden. No bueno.
- Build tension. Earn attention. The greatest books and movies I've ever read and watched build a tremendous amount of tension and suspense in the beginning causing me to "lean in" to find out how the problem is going to be resolved. In preaching, the better I can craft a tension-building question (a problem that the audience wants the answer to), the more engaged the listener will be. Don't assume interest. Build tension. Earn attention.
- Be affected. Be effective. When I have already been affected by the truth of the text that I am going to preach, I find myself being more effective in preaching it. When I have already inhaled the truths from God's Word that I am going to proclaim, I find it so much easier to exhale them. Truths that have not been first received by me will not be easily accepted by others. Your audience knows if you've been where you're trying to take them! Therefore, go there first! Smoke what you're selling! Be affected. Be effective. (Titus 2:7)
- Your weakness. God's strength. I connect best with the audience through stories of how I have failed, not how I have succeeded. Vulnerability and transparency with my sin and my shortcomings creates an authenticity in communication like nothing else. One of the greatest gifts a preacher can give to their listeners is the comfort that, though they are the preacher, they are working out their own salvation with fear and trembling just like their audience is! Lean into your struggle. Your weakness. God's strength. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
- Absent Spirit. Impotent Word. My words have absolutely no power to transform a life. None at all. Only the Holy Spirit of God can convict a heart. Only the Holy Spirit of God can cause change. Only the Holy Spirit of God can bring salvation. Know your role. We prepare. The Holy Spirit brings the power. We talk. The Holy Spirit transforms. We communicate. The Holy Spirit convicts. Plead for God to do what only God can do. Absent Spirit. Impotent Word. (John 16:7-15)
- Teach Less. Teach More. If I have taught everything in a particular text, but I have conveyed nothing, I have failed. With that in mind, I find communicating one big idea from the text to be more effective than communicating every single point of the text. If there are multiple points in a text, I don't try to preach it all in one sermon, I try to preach it all in one series of sermons. Most times, when less is taught, more can be understood (and applied!). Teach less. Teach more.
- Let it out. Let it go. I will drive myself crazy if, after I preach, I worry too much about how "good" I did or how "effective" I was. I will become too self-absorbed if I find myself unhealthily looking for affirmation or approval from my listeners. With that in mind, my mantra when I finish a sermon is, "Because I let it out, I can let it go." All I can do is be obedient to what God was leading me to say. If I did that, I can rest easy. The results are up to Him. Let it out. Let it go. (Isaiah 55:11)
- Son first. Preacher second. My identity is not in what I say about God. My identity is in what God has already said about me! I am a prodigal who has already been received before I am a preacher who longs to be accepted. I don't preach for God's approval, I preach from God's approval. If I am preaching to "become somebody," I am not going to help anybody! Son first. Preacher second. Don't get it twisted. (Ephesians 1:3-5)
I'd love to hear about the preaching lessons you've picked up along the way! Feel free to share them in the comments below!