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Top 10 Rookie Preaching Mistakes

1. “Spring-boarding” off the text 

This is probably one of the most common mistakes for rookies learning how to preach expositionally. Rather than letting your sermon flow from the main idea and logic of the passage, you find one of the interesting points of the passage and ‘spring-board’ into a sermon about those points. Your sermon becomes more ‘topical’ than ‘expository’; and while it gives the appearance of preaching from the passage, you could really preach a nearly identical sermon from any number of passages that also deal with that topic.

2. Hobby-horses

We all have hobby-horses that we like to flog endlessly. Rookie preachers tend to do this more and hide it less well. It’s probably because they have fewer insights from exegesis and life/ministry experience. So whether your hobby-horse is ‘5 point Calvinism’ or ‘heresy bashing’ or ‘The Westminster Confession’, if it’s not absolutely tied to the content or application of your sermon, learn to leave the horse in the stable.

3. Indulgent illustrations

Illustrations are great. Vivid and interesting illustrations are even better. But not when they go for 1/4 of the length of your sermon, or have so many interesting twists and turns that the relationship between your illustration and the point being illustrated is hanging by a very, very thin thread. Make your illustrations interesting and, by all means, do extended ones on occasion, but please don’t be indulgent with them. Make sure your illustrations actually serve the sermon, and not the other way around.

4. Saying too much

Rookie preachers can often forget that less is more. This is related to the above point about illustrations, as well as, in particular, introductions and conclusions. Neither have to be long and drawn out. Sometimes a short punchy intro is enough to get your listeners on board. And your conclusions don’t need to reiterate all your points again. Just tie it up and finish memorably. That’s enough.

Another way rookies say too much has to do with taking all that they’ve read (and/or in the case of seminary students and graduates – all that you’ve studied), and learning how to leave most of that in the study. You’ve heard of the iceberg principle? Only 10% needs to be above the water. The other 90% stays beneath.

And one last note. Rookie preachers should almost never preach longer than 30 minutes. Remember this?

5. Saying too little

Clearly this is the opposite problem to the above, but it’s not unrelated.

Sometimes in order to accommodate for the long illustrations or techy commentary-like stuff that you haven’t left on the cutting room floor, you don’t have time to take listeners deeper and further in other areas.

Sometimes rookies say too little when you quickly mention concepts and ideas that actually require more explanation. Don’t just throw out phrases like ‘all this points to Jesus’ and then just leave it like that. Tell me how it points to Jesus. Chances are that right there is a glorious point about the gospel you should say more about.

The other reason rookies may say too little has to do with lack of pastoral and/or ministry experience. That can only get better with time. It’ll come as you spend more time ministering to and teaching the people in the congregation, outside of the pulpit.

6. Shallow applications

This is related to the previous point. A lack of experience in both life and ministry will inevitably lead to applications that will often miss the mark. Again, much of this will improve with time and experience. But in the mean time, rookies need to be aware of the tendency to drift to shallow applications and so need to work just as hard on application as they do on the passage. If in doubt, regularly use a cross-section of the congregational leaders as sounding boards and test out your applications on them.

7. Speaking like you write

We write differently to how we speak. Most rookies use full scripts and so need to draft, re-draft, and re-draft again in order to replace those bits in their writing that sound too much like writing and not like speaking.

There are lots of good stuff on this floating around on the web, but for starters:

i. Avoid passive verb constructions (rather than: ‘the man was healed by Jesus, go for: ‘Jesus healed the man’).

ii. Don’t use words like ‘therefore’, ‘however’, and ‘moreover’ etc.. Try using ‘so’, ‘but’, and ‘the other thing is…’ instead.

iii. Chop up long complex sentences into shorter and simpler ones.

iv. Use things like pauses, repetitions, re-phrasings – basically things you don’t need to do in writing because they’re a waste of space. In speaking, use them liberally to help make your point clearer and more memorable.

v. Learn to script in slangs, contractions (didn’t, wasn’t, hadn’t), even grammatically incorrect things you use in speech that you’d lose marks for in essays.

8. Trying too hard to emulate someone else’s style

I get it, you’re starting out and so you don’t have your own style yet. Copying those you listen to (especially if you podcast them and listen to them A LOT) is unavoidable. But try not to consciously emulate someone else’s style. This isn’t a copyright thing. It has to do with the fact that the famous guys you listen to are generally very unique. If you try to do it their way, it’s most probably not going to work.

Let the Francis Chans and David Platts and Tim Kellers do their thing. You just keep your head down and work hard at improving being you.

9. Idiosyncrasies heightened

The interesting flip-side to developing your own style is that if you’re a rookie, the unhelpful bits of what makes you ‘you’ is going to be heightened.

Is your sense of humour cringe-worthy? Do you like using esoteric vocabulary or wax poetry in your every day speech? Do you like giving soap-box lectures to groups of friends, even if that group is only two big? Do you gesticulate a lot even when talking to your dog?

All of these things will likely be heightened in the rookie’s preaching, and you’re generally not going to even notice them.

10. Lack of good preparation method 

Finally a lot of the above rookie mistakes can be addressed if rookies just remembered that they’re rookies. Which means that you need to learn a method, try it out a few hundred times, practise and practise and practise until you nail the method, and then you can freestyle a bit more.

Many rookies don’t want to do that, at their own detriment. Learn a method of preparation from the great teachers of preaching. My method of choice is Chappo’s (John Chapman, from Setting Hearts On Fire). It’s not the only one out there that’s good, so find another one that is and learn it.

When you’ve absolutely mastered the method, before you know it, you’re not making these same rookie mistakes any more. But just remember, ‘the first fifty years are the hardest’ (Chappo), so keep at it brothers and sisters. Soli Deo Gloria!

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Sermons over 30 minutes? Rookie preacher, you’d better have a good reason!

Okay I know. This is a somewhat controversial blog post title.

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Yes, if you’re wondering, my sermons are over 30 mins. They average 45 mins. And perhaps some readers out there are of the opinion that no sermons should exceed that length.

I’m not going to argue that point or assume that all of my listeners like the length of my sermons. However, I do think there are good reasons for rookie preachers to adhere to the 30 min rule a little more than a lot of them do.

Firstly, why 30 mins? Well in my honest opinion, the ideal range is between 20 and 25 mins. In a normal Sunday gathering, anything less than 20 mins is on the ‘too short’ side. But anything more than 25 mins is on the ‘too long’ side. Therefore 30 mins is the absolute upper limit.

Now of course there are no hard-and-fast rules. And that’s why I do believe that there are exceptions. But I want to argue that for the rookie preacher, there better be a very very very good excuse why that 30 min upper limit should be exceeded.

Before I go into the reasons why, you should know that I passionately believe in training preachers. I’m constantly listening to sermons by rookie preachers and giving them feedback. My main congregation, ACTS 11, also believes in training lay preachers. Aside from our ministry interns and student ministers, I currently have four lay men who preach regularly to my congregation, all of whom have only been trained to do it in the last year. I love training preachers, and I greatly value the men who are willing to take up the challenge to learn to preach, especially when they are also busy husbands, fathers, workers, and lay leaders.

So as an ardent supporter of preaching and rookie preachers, let me now put my cards out on the table. Please rookie preacher, keep your sermons between 20-25 mins. And please, whatever you do, don’t exceed 30 mins.

Here are my reasons:

1. Practise packaging

One of the most important skills in sermon preparation is the packaging. Rookie preachers need to learn how to spend as much time on the packaging as they do on the text. Without good packaging, even a 10 min sermonette can be extremely painful and confusing to listen to.

One of the best ways to push yourself to hone the skill of packaging is to ‘leave more on the cutting room floor’. Rookie preachers don’t yet have an intuitive grasp of what, among the mountains of material they have, ought to be left out of a sermon. They almost always leave too much in rather than cut too much out.

Keeping to an upper time limit is a disciplined way of honing your skill of cutting and packaging so that only the very best stuff stays in. After you do that for a few years, it becomes a little more intuitive. In other words, keeping it short as a rookie is a good discipline to train you for a lifetime of preaching.

2. You don’t know as much as you think

Rookie preachers are either not theologically-trained lay preachers (or youth leaders etc.), or recently theologically-trained new pastors.

If you’re not theologically-trained, then understandably you’re going to lack a certain depth with the exegesis and handling of the text.

If you’re newly theologically-trained, then you’ll probably be brimming with biblical knowledge but lack a lot of knowledge of the people you’re speaking to. This is why most rookie pastors struggle with meaningful and deep applications.

Either way, you don’t know as much as you think you know. Therefore to preach long sermons will tend to take your sermon into the land of the ‘hobby-horse’. When we’re drawing on a limited pool of knowledge (whether exegetical or practical), we tend to default into speaking about the things that we feel most familiar with and passionate about. Now that’s all fine and good for us, but it may have nothing to do with the text or with the people you’re preaching to! That’s called a ‘hobby-horse’.

3. You’re not as interesting as you think

I always remember fondly the time when one of my Bible college preaching tutors, in answer to the question: ‘How long should a sermon be?’, replied: ‘It should feel like 20 minutes.’ Great answer! It gets to the truth of the issue since sermon length has a lot to do with the giftedness of the preacher. There are some preachers who can hold your attention for 90 mins and make it feel like 20. And at the end of their sermon, you wished they talked more. Therefore it is unrealistic and unreasonable to expect that all sermons should be of a certain length.

…Unless of course you’re a rookie preacher.

We always like to think of ourselves as more gifted and interesting than we are. This is especially so when our models are extra-gifted speakers who can preach for 90 mins and make it feel like 20. Part of learning to preach is to figure out what kind of a preacher you are and be happy with how God’s made you. The vast majority of preachers are 20-25 min preachers. So as a rookie, rather than assume you’re one of that special lot who can speak for longer than 30 mins, it makes better sense to assume the opposite. Assume you’re average. Keep your sermon in that range . And if, down the track, people keep asking you to speak for longer, then maybe it’s a hint that you should speak for longer.

My point is simply: it’s unwise for the rookie to assume it.

In all honesty, of all the rookie sermons I’ve listened to, I can’t think of one instance where I wished the preacher had spoken for longer. Don’t get me wrong, some of these are brilliant and delivered by extremely gifted rookie preachers. And sometimes my feedback has been for some areas (usually application) to be developed further. But even when I’ve wished certain parts of the sermon had been more detailed or longer, it’s always been in the place of another part of the sermon rather than in addition to. I don’t want the sermon to be longer. I just want it repackaged.

Okay, these are just three reasons. I’m sure there are more. Feel free to suggest more or push back on the points I’ve made.

But in closing, I know there’s one niggling question at the back of your minds: ‘when does a person stop being a rookie preacher?’

Great question. I don’t really have an answer to that. Perhaps Chappo would say ‘after the first 50 (hardest) years’. But you know I don’t believe that, or else I’d be a total hypocrite since my sermons are over 30 mins.

Maybe there’s no ‘line in the sand’ answer. Maybe it’s one of those tacit things that you and your congregation just know. Or maybe it’s when you’ve clocked up 200 sermons (roughly 5 years of preaching if you preach weekly, with a few breaks). I have no idea. But whatever it is, if you are a rookie and you and your hearers know it, please, I beg you: keep it under 30 mins!

Bible Talk vs. Preaching

A Bible-talk (on my understanding) essentially conveys the idea that the speaker wants to talk about the Bible. in other words, the term suggests that it’s a lecture about the Bible. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s quite legitimate to talk about the background, language and meaning of the Bible. The question is: is it enough? Is this what is meant by “preaching” in Scripture? I don’t think it is.

The difference between a sermon and a Bible-talk or lecture is that a sermon is meant to be a sharp arrow that is aimed at the heart. Paul says to the Thessalonians that the gospel he preached came “not in words only but also in power, in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”. Incidentally, the conviction that Paul refers to is not simply conviction in the hearers; it’s conviction in the preacher as well. A preacher must be absolutely convinced of the truth of what he is saying. Unless the preacher is convicted he is not going to convict anyone else. This means that preaching must be aimed at the heart whereas the terms “lecture” or “Bible-talk” suggest that their main aim is to impart information.

(The Rt. Rev. David Jones, Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. Quoted from the Spring 2012 edition of AP Magazine. For the full interview http://www.totalweb.com.au/AP/2012/AP8.12/AP8.12.pdf)

Is Multimedia the Death of Preaching?

Thirty-to forty-minute sermons don’t work with Gen-Xers. Doing a service which does not incorporate video and contemporary music for the most part does not work with Gen-X. […] Some of the fascinating churches I have visited that are trying to reach Gen-X and are doing so well may have a thirty-minute sermon, which is broken into three segments during the course of the service. You have a ten-minute introduction to the topic, then you have an eight-minute video on that topic. Then the preacher comes back and preaches another ten minutes. Then you have a drama sketch for five to eight minutes, and the service is closed with ten minutes of preaching. That fits their communication style. It fits their attention span. It fits their style of thinking — the “mosaic” style of thinking. (George Barna)

George Barna wrote this a generation ago, but his words still have application to the modern church context. Preachers today are under enormous pressure to make preaching more savvy, more visual, more multisensory, or perhaps just get rid of preaching altogether in favour of multimedia presentations. What are we to make of this?

In my previous post I began a three-part series trying to answer the question: ‘why privilege preaching?’. In this next post, I want to tentatively suggest that preaching as a medium best corresponds with God’s primary medium in revealing himself to humanity.

Marshall MacLuhan famously said that ‘The medium is the message’. In other words, how we communicate effects what we communicate. For example, the evening news on TV – which is primarily driven by 30 second to 2 minute news segments mostly consisting of fragmented video footage, strung together by brief commentary, then broken up by commercials and ending with a heart-warming story about puppies being rescued from Chinese restaurants (joke) – communicates something about the news in addition to communicating the news. It’s saying something about the nature of life and the relative importance of world events – i.e. life is rather fragmented; news = sound bites; and puppies are as important as massacres in Syria. The medium is the message.

When you begin asking why God chose a particular medium of communication in revealing himself to humanity, it may have implications for the medium of communication we privilege to deliver his revelation.

In short, God chose words. More specifically God chose to speak his words. Even the words that he caused to be written in Scripture are, to a large extent, intended to be read aloud, re-preached, re-told, and re-verbalised, especially in the public assembly (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:1). I don’t think it’s just a matter of God choosing the lowest common denominator in a predominantly pre-visual and pre-literate age (though that is true to a certain extent). I think it has to do with the nature of spoken communication.

Compare the spoken word with visual communication – e.g. radio vs. TV; a phone call vs. a text message. The spoken (and heard) word is more intimate than purely visual forms of communication. That’s why radio is called a ‘warmer’ medium than TV. The spoken word is also more relational. The further one gets from face-to-face verbal communication the ‘colder’ communication becomes, since so much of communication is meta-communication such as intonation (i.e. how we say it). Visual images and the written word have to find ways to “code in” that meta-communication in a way that the spoken word doesn’t (just think about how much more likely an email is misunderstood than a spoken word!). And lastly, spoken words have an immediacy about them that images and written words don’t. Images especially need higher levels of interpretation that are circumscribed by one’s culture. It’s not that spoken words don’t need interpretation, it’s just that since language and culture have a symbiotic relationship, once a word is spoken (or for that matter, written) in a particular language, the interpretation is more ’embedded’ in its actual usage. That’s why if you’re wanting to warn people, you’re more likely to use spoken words than simply show a picture or a sign. (A red sign in our culture means danger because that’s how we interpret the colour red, but for a Chinese person, red symbolises prosperity.)

So isn’t it interesting that when God wants to relate to people – variously to befriend them, bless them, expose their sin, judge them or give them hope – he uses words? He speaks. He preaches. He declares it so we can hear it and heed it. And note how the declarative speech-acts (such as prophecy and preaching) carry with them a certain authority. They are uniquely suitable mediums for God to communicate his words since when God speaks there’s a certain non-negotiability about it. He doesn’t leave his words open to uncertainty and leave postmodern audiences to interpret them however their personal or cultural biases might take them.

Isaiah 55:10–11 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

In other words, there’s a reason why God speaks his revelation, tells his revelation, preaches his revelation, even sings (?) his revelation. The reason is the message – the gospel (by this I mean the gospel in the fullest and widest sense: i.e. God’s message of Christ’s Lordship and salvation in the whole of Scripture). In fact, the word ‘gospel’ itself reflects this since the gospel is news. News needs to be declared, announced, proclaimed and preached. When you preach the gospel (medium) you are saying something about the message – i.e. that it’s personal and relational, and yet urgent and authoritative. Thus on the flip-side it’s worth asking the question: if we decide not to preach the gospel but privilege other forms of communicating it: visualise it, enact it, multimedia it, Q&A it, does something get lost? (I’m not saying here that there aren’t many different and helpful ways to communicate the gospel; there certainly are. I’m just asking the question of ‘what do we lose?’.) Does the gospel message itself privilege the spoken medium over others?

So coming back to my initial point about preaching: I believe that because God himself privileges a particular medium of communication to deliver his gospel message, this, in some measure, constrains us also to privilege spoken and declarative communication – i.e. preaching. Multimedia may be helpful supplements to our teaching and preaching, but I think were the church to downgrade the privileging of preaching, we would lose not only a Biblical medium, but perhaps a whole lot of the message along with it.

Sermon Illustrations Aid

When I was doing a ministry apprenticeship, my trainer advised me to get a filing cabinet organised in terms of books of the Bible and topics that are relevant to preaching. Whenever I came across an article or an idea that would vaguely serve as an illustration, I would then file it in the relevant section. In time, I would have a heap of potential sermon illustrations just waiting in folders for me to appropriate when the time came.

It was a great idea, and I certainly filled many folders worth of clippings and articles and ideas. However I must admit that over the years I haven’t gone back into those files very often. I now have a big filing cabinet that I very rarely use.

Fast forward 15 years and now I collect my illustrations in a different way: a much simpler and technologically-aided way. I use Evernote, which is just a superb app for so many things. But for sermon illustrations, whether it’s an article, a blog, a video, a picture, a site… whatever, I simply clip it and store it in my Evernote account, which is automatically synced to my desktop and devices. The clipping function is an add-on that I downloaded to go directly on to my browser (I use Chrome). Whenever I come across something, I simply click the icon and it clips the page I’m on and stores it into my Evernote folder titled ‘Illustrations’. I then tag it with the relevant words to enable searching when the time comes.

So that’s me. I wonder, what do you use to collect sermon illustrations?

My Preaching Mentors

I love preaching. Aside from its importance in the life and growth of the church, I personally find that it’s one of the most exciting and stimulating things to be engaged in.

I gave my first ‘talk’ about half a lifetime ago (half of my lifetime – that’s 17 years) at a summer mission in Gunnedah and I’ve been passionate about it since. Half a lifetime later, I’m still learning.

Anyways, I got thinking about my biggest influences in preaching. So here they are. I’m grateful to God for each and every one of these men who’ve taught me so much through their example, preaching, writing, and workshopping.

1. “Chappo” (John Chapman) 

He taught me a formula of preaching that really does produce “better than average sermons” every single time. His stuff from Setting Hearts on Fire was foundational: especially for a rookie preacher. And it was Chappo who famously taught us that the first 50 years are the hardest. I’ve got another 33 to go (that’s an entire lifetime for me!).

2. Dominic Steele

I did my MTS apprenticeship with Dominic. He put Chappo’s stuff into practice for me and set a model of how it worked itself out in actual sermons. He’s a great communicator of the gospel and I’m grateful for how he helped me hone the craft of preaching.

3. Mark Driscoll

It was hearing Driscoll that freed me up from a certain kind of rigidity I had gotten myself into a few years after College. Sure my sermons were polished, 25 mins, well-illustrated and clear, but they lacked a certain ‘fire’. Driscoll (indirectly) helped me get free from full-notes, begin to think more about application not just as an afterthought, and going for sermons that were more like 40-50 mins rather than 20 (if appropriate).

4. Tim Keller

Tim Keller has been the biggest shaper of my preaching in the last couple of  years. He is a good counter-balance to the Driscoll-type stuff I picked up. Also, Keller taught me how to actually go deeper with the hearers by going for heart idols in my application.

So my advice to younger preachers? Make sure you have a good foundation. Go buy and soak up Chappo (or the SMBC preaching manual). Make sure you get lots of practise with a good personal mentor. Make sure you widen your listening. Make sure you hear seasoned preachers with a lot of depth, not just a lot of communication skills.

And finally, make sure you’re comfortable finding your own style. I’m still working that out.

My Voice or the Holy Spirit’s?

I find one of the biggest temptations I have in preaching is substituting the Holy Spirit’s voice for mine. It’s not always a defined line as the Holy Spirit speaks through the delivered words of Bible teachers and preachers and “prophets” (whatever you might mean by this term). However, I think I do know when I’ve crossed that line from delivering the faithful message that God has entrusted for me to deliver as a Bible teacher and into the territory where I’ve let my personal hobby-horses, frustrations, foibles, limitations and ‘subtexts’ become the main voice people hear from the sermon.

So when does this happen? Here are a few meandering reflections:

1. When I am not faithful to the text, context and voice of Scripture.This is the obvious one. I know that young preachers (especially pre-Bible College trained preachers) often just ‘springboard off a text and preach that one idea that grabbed their attention rather than preaching what’s actually there.

2. When I go after my hobby-horses. Everyone has theirs and every preacher is in danger of giving theirs a good flog every so often. It’s okay to have hobby-horses as long as I recognise that when I preach my hobby-horses (or hobby-horse passages), I’m more likely to say what I want to say, not necessarily what God wants to say.

3. When I am frustrated or angry at my hearers. And yes, as a pastor that can happen quite often! Even when it’s for good reasons, I must not let my anger, bitterness or frustrations cloud the voice of their Heavenly Father and mine. This is where I’m most tempted to substitute God’s voice for my own.

4. When I condemn rather than convict and don’t move people to pursue God’s glory and grace. There’s a difference between condemning and convicting. The Holy Spirit does the latter; the enemy does the former. I find myself often doing the enemy’s work out of my frustrations. And here’s the thing: even when I might have admonition for my hearers, I am to have a ‘gospel shape’ to my appeal. It’s to drive people to seek God’s grace and God’s glory. This means I am never to hold out commands in a legalistic way but to urge my hearers to pursue obedience for God’s glory and their joy (which, according to Jonathan Edwards is one and the same).

5. When preaching is not accompanied by humble prayer and is not ultimately an act of worship for me. Tim Keller helpfully distinguishes preaching from lecturing in that preaching is an act of worship aimed at producing genuine worship in God’s hearers. When I no longer rely on the Holy Spirit to move and change people in his way and in his time and evidence this by humble prayer, and when I no longer get into the pulpit as an act of Spirit-led and Spirit-dependent worship, then I am very much in danger of going up there with my own voice to substitute His.

That’s just my list… any other thoughts?

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!