Experienced preachers often get asked by young preachers to give them advice on their craft. How do I preach better? Should I preach longer? Or shorter? Should I use illustrations? Should I use a full script or just notes?
Each preacher develops opinions on these things, and before long the young preacher is offering advice to the even-younger preacher.
There are certainly techniques and approaches to preaching that can be learnt. There is also an element to it that seems to spring more naturally from the personality. A combination of learning techniques and listening to your mentors will most likely help you to achieve the goal of faithful, thorough and motivating Bible preaching.
Below is a list of seven tips for those who are beginning to preach. They are not an exhaustive program for preaching effectively; rather, they are simple ideas that I have found to bring more success than failure. They are focussed on one question: how do I keep it interesting?
1. When you preach, be as good as you can
This seems like stating the obvious, but it is a good thing to keep in the forefront of your mind as you begin a preaching life. If your congregation is used to biblical preaching, they may tolerate you being a little boring now and then, because their faith in the Bible lets them know it’s still worth listening. They believe in the Scriptures, so as long as you stick to them they are willing to put up with you. However, if you are trying to persuade your congregation that expositional preaching is especially valuable, your delivery will need to be especially good. Preaching is always worth the extra effort.
2. Fledgling preachers tend to be boring
If you’re not boring when you emerge from Bible College, you probably didn’t learn anything. Your head will be full of theology, Greek phrases, the latest ideas on running a service, and whatever else has grabbed your intellectual fancy.
Five years out of College, if you’re still boring, you have a problem.
However, it is better to come out of college and preach heavy sermons than to come out of college and be too light. If that is the case, in five years time you may have nothing left to say.
3. Work out how long you can preach for and still be interesting
To do this, you need people in the congregation who can give you good feedback—who can tell you that by 35 minutes no one was listening any more. If you learn you’re a 35 minute preacher, then make sure you do the job in those 35 minutes. Don’t feel you have to preach for 45 minutes just because someone else does. Having said that, if someone tells you after your first sermon that you should keep it to 10 minutes from here on in, that shouldn’t dictate your sermon length for the rest of your life. Give yourself a chance.
3. Avoid commentaries
Commentaries can be useful tools, but they can be deadening for preachers. Spend more time in the biblical text and thinking for yourself about it, and less time answering the problems of the commentators. Scholars who write commentaries are talking to each other, answering each others’ questions. They are not the questions that the person in the pew has, and they’re often not what the text is about either. Even the best, biblical commentators still have to answer many questions entirely irrelevant to the people you are serving on a Sunday morning. Knowing the answers to these questions is still important, but you can’t let it take up all your sermon preparation time.
4. Find the logic units of the book; don’t just preach on chapters or paragraphs
The Bible book must determine the sermon. A book like Job, for instance, is not suited to chapter by chapter exposition. On the other hand, you might want to take John 3:16 on its own. It is crucial to understand the logic of the material you are preaching.
5. Young preachers should start with bigger sections
This is for self-protection. Preaching on large slabs of Scripture means you are less likely to read your own agenda into the text. Preaching on one or two verses takes much more knowledge in order to get it right. With longer passages, the congregation will be able to hear the Bible speaking for itself.
6. Expository preaching is worth fighting for (but a lot of other things are not)
If expository preaching is a new concept for your congregation, go easy on everything else. It is important that you establish the priority of teaching the Bible. It’s also important that you love your congregation and that they learn to love you. Live their lives with them, care for them in all the ways they appreciate, and don’t change things you don’t have to. If they know you love them, they will be much more willing to accept your leadership in preaching the Bible.