I remember the first time I stepped into the pulpit. I was scared stiff. Sweaty palms, hands clenching my Bible and notes… but in the end, I did okay. Part of what helped was getting some help. The first meeting I ever had with our pastor was for him to give me some pointers. Then another friend took me under his wing, giving me the opportunity to get better.
Like writing, art, music, cooking or pretty much anything else, preaching takes practice. But it also takes a willingness to learn from others. A while back I shared a few lessons I learned from listening to other preachers. Here are a few more that I wanted to share:
1. There’s a difference between “speaking” and “preaching.”
Recently, I was at an event where I listened to a speaker discuss his vision for ministry and how he does life as a pastor. As I heard him speak, something felt off. He was clearly a gifted speaker, but as I listened, I kept thinking, “This is a man who is clearly a good leader, but he’s not a preacher.” He came across more as a CEO than a shepherd.
Perhaps it’s the context in which he was speaking that led to this, but something I’ve noticed about preachers is that what they say is rooted in God’s Word. Dever and Gilbert put it well when they wrote, “Anything that is not rooted in and tethered tightly to God’s Word is not preaching at all.” That’s the difference between speaking and preaching. Preaching is about God. Speaking is more often than not about me.
2. Preaching requires preparation.
Something I’ve become increasingly aware of in my own life is the propensity toward laziness. Once I get comfortable doing something, it’s easy to think I don’t need to put in all the work. I don’t need to practice or put together my notes in a timely fashion (timely, as in, giving myself enough time to prepare). I rely on natural ability rather than on careful, prayerful effort.
Maybe you’ve heard of this before, but I’ve found it helpful to think of raw ability in degrees of competence:
- There are the consciously incompetent—you know you don’t know what you’re doing;
- The unconsciously competent—you don’t know you know what you’re doing;
- The consciously competent—you know you know what you’re doing; and
- The unconsciously incompetent—you think you know what you’re doing, but not so much.
All of us, in whatever area we serve, move through these degrees of competence. I’ve seen it happen in the same day (and yes, it was me that did it). Those who know they don’t know much are usually the best learners and most open to criticism. The ones who think they’re awesome but aren’t tend to struggle with receiving critical feedback (in my experience at least).
Preaching requires a great deal of careful preparation. It might not take long to craft an outline or a manuscript (I’m actually getting pretty fast at this part), and some of us might be really quick on our feet, but we cannot afford to become undisciplined.
3. Preaching takes courage.
This weekend my own pastor preached another hard one, one that I shared some thoughts about very recently. Malachi’s a hard book, one that some might call a space-maker. As we’ve seen our church grow numerically, I can’t imagine the temptation that he and our elders must face. More people means our space issues become more pressing. More people in need of ministry means more leaders need to be developed. There are a lot of variables that I have no knowledge of whatsoever that come into play, but I can imagine it’s tempting to compromise on values to get things done. But preaching hard texts, ones that force people to feel the weight of their own sin, especially in the face of growth, takes courage.
Those are a few things I’m learning from other preachers—what about you?