Some skills can be practiced in private. Some have to be worked out in the hard, cold spotlight in front of other people.
Writing is the first kind of skill. You can tweak it with no one watching. For instance, I made a bunch of mistakes in this article that you will never see, because I didn’t have to hit publish until my errors were fixed.
It’s not that way with preaching.
Preaching is a public skill that requires public practice. To get good at it, you have to start doing it while you’re still bad at it.
Sure, you can practice a sermon in front of a mirror and work out a few glaring errors. But there’s nothing like standing in front of a congregation to really expose all your communication weaknesses – even if you’re speaking to a sympathetic group.
But that’s the only way to become a better preacher. If you want to get good at it, you have to speak in front of people before you’re good at it.
You need to preach a whole lot of bad sermons if you ever want to preach good sermons.
How To Use Bad Sermons To Get Better
If you’re new to pastoring, or are considering going into a ministry that will require you to preach or teach on a regular basis, here are 7 steps that can move you from preaching badly to preaching well.
1. Preach a lot
There’s no substitute for repetition.
Preaching a lot develops muscle memory. You get used to it. You find a rhythm. You discover what to do and not to do.
But you have to do it again and again and again...
2. Preach wherever and whenever you can
Don’t wait for the “right” situation. There are no right or wrong places to preach.
When I was starting out, I went to local senior centers, recovery groups, Sunday School classes, you name it. If a group needed someone to speak, I was willing. Usually I was speaking to fewer than a dozen people. Often just two or three.
It’s just as hard to prepare and speak well to 5 people as it is to 500 or 5,000. And you learn just as much, no matter the size of the crowd.
3. Preach prayerfully
Preaching is not a solo activity. It’s never just you up there – at least it shouldn’t be.
You need to have a conscious awareness of God’s presence as you speak.
A prayerless sermon is a lonely sermon. And it’s not much good to anyone, including the preacher.
But a sermon backed by prayer can still have an impact on the hearers, even if your skills aren’t honed yet.
4. Preach biblically
Don’t get an idea for a sermon, then tack a scripture onto it. Start with God’s Word in your heart and speak with God’s Word in your mouth.
Like with prayer, when you stick with scripture, what you say will carry a weight and authority, even if your skills aren’t what you’d like them to be.
5. Preach when you don’t have anything to say
Even after you’ve prayed, read and studied the passage, there will be times when you feel uninspired, unprepared and empty. Preach anyway.
There’s a saying among writers – only amateurs wait for inspiration, pros sit down and start writing. What’s true for writers is also true for preachers. Don’t be an amateur. Just go preach.
In my experience, the inspiration doesn’t come first, the work comes first. Doing the work brings the inspiration, not the other way around.
6. Preach until you get better, then worse, then better again
It may take a while to get better at preaching well. Then, just as you feel like you’re getting the hang of it, you’ll take a few steps back again.
That’s okay. Keep going. Ups and downs are a part of it.
7. Stay humble
I’ve been preaching for almost 40 years, and I still haven’t preached my last bad sermon.
No matter how much you do it or how good you get at it, the next one always has the chance of being a stinker. So don’t get cocky. Stay humble. Rely on prayer and God’s Word.
And keep preaching.
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