Whether you want to become a better preacher or you’re just interested in what makes a good sermon, learning these five factors will help.
Lessons from a Novice Preacher
I haven’t preached very many times. I’m still just a novice at proclaiming the Word of God. But I’ve gone through the process enough times to know what I don’t know and to have discovered a few best practices.
Not long ago I finally preached a sermon that seemed to hit home for the listeners. Aside from the usual “good sermon” comments, several people mentioned “I needed to hear that” even a few days later. Although pride is a constant temptation, I ventured to reflect on this sermon and others I’ve done in the past to figure out what to keep doing.
Here are five P’s of preaching any minister can use to improve his sermons.
Five P’s of Powerful Preaching
You have to put in the time. Hastily prepared sermons disrespect the text, the Lord of the text, and His people. There are no shortcuts. Although ministers are pulled in many directions, they must carve out time for sermon preparation and protect it (Acts 6:2). Church members, deacons, and elders, too, must respect the pastor’s time and allow him to do the head and heart work necessary to prep a solid sermon.
Strive for clarity. Preachers, especially the young seminary-types, are eager to use multi-syllabic theological jargon or Hebrew and Greek vocabulary to show that they’ve been academically trained. Usually this simply has the effect of confusing the listeners and making them feel like they’ve just heard a lecture instead of a sermon. But Paul sets the example for simplicity when he says, “And I, when I came to you brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom…but in a demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:1, 5).
It helps to rehearse a sermon. I mean actually saying it out loud to yourself. You can do this in front of the mirror, by recording it and playing it back, while pacing, or, best yet, by delivering it in front of a congregation, polishing it up, and delivering it again in a different setting. This isn’t simply recycling sermons. Rather by fine tuning a single sermon and learning what works you’re reflecting on your practice and you’ll actually improve your skill in preparing future sermons.
The truth has to work on your heart before you can apply it other people’s hearts. Your hearers will be able to detect how well you know a text on an intellectual level and on a heart level. The more you can speak from a place of internal intimacy with a particular topic or principle the more passionately you’ll be able to preach it.
I added this one night when I had finished preparing a Sunday School lesson. As I printed out the lesson it occurred to me that, for the first time I could remember, the preparation and the lesson seemed mechanical. It wasn’t a serious and glorious charge of announcing the Good News. It was just something I had to get done.
I had practiced giving Sunday School lessons enough times to know the it would be solid and I didn’t have to worry about timing, flow, or content. But woe to the minister of God’s word if he ever thinks, “I’ve got this.” What the preacher does–proclaim eternal truth in the name of Almighty God–cannot be done apart from the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5). He must always recognize His dependence on God for his high and sober calling. Therefore, prayer is essential to keep the preacher humble before the Savior He preaches and to keep him begging for the Holy Spirit to enliven and empower his words.
There’s much more to preaching than five P’s, but they’re a start. Of course the five P’s of preaching wouldn’t be complete without the five B’s of preaching. “Be brief, brother. Be brief.”