Training for "One Pitch" Preachers
Jimmy Jackson almost made it to baseball's big leagues. Pitching coaches routinely clocked his fastball in the mid nineties. Yep, you could always count on Jimmy's fastball.
Of course that was Jimmy's downfall too: he only threw fastballs. No curveballs, sliders, or change-ups—just blistering fastballs in roughly the same place: belt-high and smack down the middle. So after awhile every batter knew what was coming. There's a good chance he could have made the Twins' starting lineup—if he could have had at least one more pitch.
If you're a real Twins fan, you probably know that Jimmy never existed. I made up his story to illustrate a point: Just as pro baseball players get stuck in pitching ruts, pastors can get stuck in preaching ruts. One-pitch pastors usually have one good pitch, but as in Jimmy's case, that might also be their weakness. One-pitch preachers get dull. Worse they sometimes fail to preach "the whole counsel of God."
So how do you escape this rut?
Assess your style
Begin by reviewing your sermon history and preaching tendencies. What is your favorite (or perhaps your only) approach to preaching? Do you tend to be primarily doctrinal, confrontational, an explainer, pastoral, how-to, inductive in structure, deductive in structure? Do you always use three parallel points? Do you gravitate to the same passages?
Ask your people for direct and honest feedback. If that's too daunting, just ask them about how they experience your preaching. For example, about midway through my nine-year pastorate on Long Island, I started asking a few key people (and not just my biggest fans) the following questions: How would you describe my preaching in a couple sentences? What do you want more of in my preaching?
Long Island people are typical New Yorkers: They'll tell you what they think. One guy told me, "You're too nice. We're dying for you to get in our face and challenge us!"
Ask different questions of the text
Most of us approach our sermon text with a largely subconscious set of questions. Based on my temperament and spiritual gifts, during my sermon preparation I tend to focus on questions like these: How does this passage offer God's comfort to wounded people? Where's the grace and encouragement in this passage? Great questions, but they shouldn't be the only questions I ask during sermon prep.
I need to expand the questions I ask. For me that means asking questions like these: Where does this text confront our sinful tendencies? How is God calling his people to repent? Become a collector of questions. You shouldn't use them all, but questions can lead you to thinking in ways you typically would not.
Stretch your comfort zone
John Wesley was initially repulsed by the idea of preaching in the open fields. But in his journal, Wesley noted the day when God added a pitch to his preaching repertoire. Wesley wrote, "I submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation …" From that point, Wesley saw mass conversions ...