What I’ve Learnt About Preaching

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I think I preached my first (short) talk about 15 years ago at a summer mission. Now I’m five years out of Bible College, preaching every week, and yet I reckon I’m only beginning to get the hang of it. So as a relatively young preacher, I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on what’s helped my preaching improve in the last few years.

1. Preach the passage to yourself first

I’ve come to appreciate this more and more. Often the sermons that have the most impact on the listeners have been ones that I’ve had to wrestle hardest with in my own life. This works especially well in the Aussie context or where you’re younger than the people you’re preaching to. Lots of people don’t like being preached at by some young dude. But if your preaching is with the humility of ‘Hey, I’ve had to wrestle with this myself and this is how it’s challenged me’, often you get an even stronger impact.

2. Get preached at lots

I probably listen to at least 3-4 sermons a week on average and I find that I get influenced a lot by those I’m listening to (mostly for good, sometimes for bad). And I go through fads. For a while I listened to every John Piper sermon I could get my hands on. Then it was Mark Driscoll. Then Matt Chandler. And now I’m consuming vast amounts of Tim Keller. Listening to other preachers not only grows you as a follower of Jesus, it also gives you an opportunity to work out why they’re good and what makes them good.

3. Do lots of teaching out of the pulpit

Probably the best stuff that makes my sermons have come from informal one-on-one or small group teaching. The best illustrations are stories I’ve told lots of times before. The best and clearest explanations are ones I’ve used a hundred times (often in evangelistic contexts). I reckon the more I teach out of the pulpit, the better I teach in the pulpit.

4. Try to graduate from full script to notes (or even go ‘commando’)

Believe it or not I was still bringing up full notes until the beginning of this year! I resisted for ages ‘coz it was a huuuge security blanket. But now that I’ve got out of using full notes (and sometimes without notes), I understand its benefits. For me the benefits have been:

(i) It allows me to ad lib better and respond to how the Holy Spirit might be directing me at various points in my sermon

(ii) It allows me to gauge the congregation’s mood/vibe/level of reception and concentration better and respond accordingly

(iii) It forces me to commit more to memory and I end up having more material in my ‘back-pocket’ for those times when I need them

5. Preach apologetically

I learnt this from Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller (who I think got it from the Puritans). I’ve found it super helpful to answer potential objections in the minds of those whom you are preaching to.

6. Application, application, application

My training and background has been very strong on exegesis and handling the text. That’s all really important still, no question. However, where my preaching has improved in the last few years has been understanding the importance of application. Time has to be spent on thinking about how this text impacts on the world and the people and the culture. The Puritans were brilliant at this and that’s why they preached such long sermons. I’ve found that as much time in my sermon (both preparation and final product) should go into application as it does to exegesis.

7. Preach to an audience of many but…

I guess related to the above, I’ve realised that I need to know my congregation – both those sitting there as well as those whom I want to be sitting there. The more I know them and am among them, the better the connection between me as preacher and them as congregation. I gotta be thinking about how the text might apply to the entire range of different people in our midst: the single mum, the wealthy retiree, the depressed, the joyful, the unconverted religious, the teenager, the unemployed… That’s hard work.

8. Preach for an audience of One

And last but not least I reckon this has really helped me. Sometimes I leave the pulpit feeling pretty crummy. But in the end, I’m not asked to be spectacular, I’m asked to be faithful. Criticisms come for good reasons or not, but ultimately, it’s my Father’s approval that matters.

I’d love for more points to be added to this ad hoc list. Comments welcome!

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About Pete

I am a child of God, a husband, a father of four children, a pastor, and a church planter. I live in Sydney Australia and live to see Jesus made famous in this city and be the only God people worship.

Posted on August 24, 2009, in Church, Ministry and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Great post Pete, lots for me to meditate upon also 🙂 A couple of quick questions (which may or may not have quick answers!):

    1. How have you sustained yourself energy-wise in preaching week-in and week-out? I found it draining being up there for 3 weeks doing Amos…can’t imagine 40-45 weeks!

    2. Where are you getting Tim Keller’s talks from? I know the ones from Redeemer Lutheran require purchasing…but are there free ones somewhere else?

    • Hi Steve, thanks for the Qs. Quick answers:

      1. Believe it or not you learn how to. Also keep in mind that your prep time for sermons ought to cut down as you go along (that’s why you spend 3-4 years studying the Bible full-time).

      2. monergism.com – search for ‘Tim Keller mp3’

      God bless!

  2. Re #8. “Sometimes … felling pretty crummy”
    Did you see Rick Warren’s tweet about this today?

    “Emotional letdown after teaching is part of the cost.Ur normal!Trust God,not ur emotions.Ps 42:11.U cant see all He’s doing”

    I regularly “feel” down/exhausted after preaching. It’s very tempting to seek affirmation from the listeners afterwards – but ultimately preaching is as much an act of worship as it is proclamation and our goal is to boast in HIM!

    My homiletics professor at Bible College used to say about criticism/compliments after sermons:
    “Remember one critical comment after your sermon is only one among many AND remember one compliment after your sermon is only one among many.”

    Al.

  3. you look different in that pic. bad choice of jacket & tie
    hope that helps

  4. Hey Pete,

    Thanks for the tips about preaching!

    I’ve been speaking at TeenSS this month on Philippians and it’s kinda been both rewarding and challenging – there were times in my preparation where I’d be like “yeah! can’t wait to speak to them on Sunday!” and other times where I’m like “Man…I don’t want to do this”

    I also feel like I benefit so much from preparing for the talks, having the opportunity to listen to lots of sermons like Chandler, Tim Lucas, Driscoll and reading BST commentaries.

    It’s definitely God’s sovereignty when I was preparing my talks on Philippians – themes of suffering, unity built on humility, forgetting what is behind and striving forward and rejoicing! I didn’t know God would allow me to go through all those things to help me to understand what I was speaking on a whole lot better =)

    I never knew how one could feel down after preaching, but it is tough. It’s all definitely a humbling experience and also encouraging when I read one of the TeenSS blogs about how they’ve been convicted!

    I definitely agree with your points, last week I spoke without notes because we were kind of doing a discussion/seminar style talk, but no one really said anything. So I ended up speaking on Phil 3:1-11 off the top of my head. It really does allow the Holy Spirit to help you to speak passionately and really felt the Spirit working – mind you when I heard the recording I could hear a lot that I needed to work on.

    One point that perhaps the congregation could benefit from is simply just saying “thanks for speaking” and even talk to the preacher about what has challenged you – I found that after a tough time of speaking to a none responsive crowd, one little comment can really encourage me =)

    Man, I don’t know how you can speak every week. I struggled to make it through this month!

  5. You say you listen to other preachers as a way of producing your own sermons – have you considered that you and the others are in closed feeding cycle? Each feeding on the other, but with nothing new being produced?

    Your picture shows you holding up your idol – not Jesus – but the Bible. I see you preachers as worshiping an idol and that idol is the Bible. Is it a false idol?

    You will probably delete this message, or have on of your minions do it, but I feel better for having written it.

    • Dear Harold,

      “You say you listen to other preachers as a way of producing your own sermons – have you considered that you and the others are in closed feeding cycle? Each feeding on the other, but with nothing new being produced?”

      (Ecclesiastes 1:9-14 NIV) What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun…

      An author cannot write without first reading the works of others. An inventor cannot invent without using the inventions of those before. Sermons communicate the truth of the Word of GOD and therefore does not necessitate it being “new”. It is not a fashion show.

      “Your picture shows you holding up your idol – not Jesus – but the Bible. I see you preachers as worshiping an idol and that idol is the Bible. Is it a false idol?”

      It is impossible for any living man (or beast) to hold up Jesus. I don’t know if holding up the bible is the closest thing but it is certainly more manageable. What constitute a bible isn’t so much what form it is in (Paper based book, electronic book or word of mouth etc) but the content. So… how do you know it is a bible?
      Worship is in one’s heart and not in one’s action. So… how do you know he is worshipping the bible?

      “You will probably delete this message, or have on of your minions do it, but I feel better for having written it.”

      Yes, anything is probable, including not deleting it. “Minions” seems such an inappropriate word, would “people” be better?
      I’m glad you feel better for having written it because my eyes are killing me after writing this.

      God bless.

  6. Thanks for this post. Experiencing some “emotional letdown” today after several very positive weeks in a row. I needed to be reminded that I’m not the only pastor who can be a little everly critical of myself after preaching.

    Likewise, thanks for your other points on preaching. Very edifying.

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