24 Tips for Preachers
March 18, 2013
My friend and once-upon-a-time informal mentor, Randy Nabors, has posted a score of tips for preachers on his blog, Randy’s Rag. I learned a lot from Randy just by hanging out and watching when I was a young pastor living and serving in the Chattanooga area. I post Randy’s Tips here because they are worthy of consideration by anyone who preaches. If you are a pastor, enjoy. If you are not, feel free to share them with your pastor – as long as you do it out of loving encouragement, and not just because you think you should try to improve him. That motivation will tank almost every time.
Anyway, here are Randy’s Tips for Preachers, gleaned during decades of transformational pastoral ministry and active mission engagement:
- Your aim is to have people see more of Christ and less of you.
- Make sure you love Christ more than you love preaching. You should love to preach, but it is only a means to talk about the One worth loving.
- Try to make sure your life is at all times qualified to represent God, your character worthy to stand at the holy desk at a sudden moment. It is better to give the responsibility to someone else, even for the moment, than to hurt your conscience by pretending to be something you are not.
- Don’t wait for perfection before you preach. The only perfect man who preached was also God. Holiness is a covering we have of the righteousness of Christ as well as the faith to pursue it, along with an honest and broken heart.
- Prepare to preach by marinating in the Word of God. Beware the pale substitute of commentaries.
- Read the text, translate the text, think through the text, dream the text, read the text.
- Pray for the text to minister to your own heart, hear the sermon for yourself, but remember your task is more important than waiting for your own blessing before you preach.
- While you are preaching, if you feel you are failing, pray in your heart for God to uphold you. If you feel you are doing well, pray that you will not preach in your own strength. Pray even as you speak.
- Beware of ruts, hobby horses, and anything that seems to regularly appear in your preaching that is in competition with the Gospel of grace and the glory of God. Anything, especially good things, can be a poor substitute for preaching Jesus. We are not called to preach theology but Christ, and all good theology leads to Him.
- If you preach the Old Testament without seeing Jesus or grace in it you don’t yet understand it.
- You have not been called to be intellectually esoteric, erudite, funny, or even comprehensive in your explanation of the text. All of those things have their place, but if people can’t see Christ you have failed.
- Illustrations should lead to something, don’t presume on abstract reasoning from the congregation, connect the dots.
- Be careful with your introduction. Don’t let it be too long, raise the issue (the main direction, question, or argument of your sermon) fairly soon. Don’t wander too far from your text, or simply read it at the beginning and fail to preach it. To not preach the text which you yourself have chosen is like telling the people that your ideas are more important than the Bible.
- Application is essential, simply reading and even explaining the text is not preaching.
- Self-disclose, confess your own faults, and use your life as an illustration with wisdom and a measure of restraint. Too little and you are hiding, too much and you are an exhibitionist.
- If you make a mistake in preaching (misinterpret, forgot the balance, were too flippant, too angry, insulted someone(s)), apologize publicly the next time you are up. Humility will win you favor.
- Never belittle, ridicule, or embarrass your wife and children as illustrations in your sermons. The congregation will take their side and miss the spiritual point you were trying to make. Once your daughter(s) reach middle school avoid mentioning them like the plague.
- Listen to your wife’s reactions, watch her face, she is probably the most loyal critic you will have.
- Sermon criticism is a good thing if you seek it from those who want to help you but don’t indulge in it immediately after you preach; let your ego heal from its vulnerability.
- Avoid arguments or being defensive right after a sermon, give yourself and others time to think things over.
- Don’t believe all the compliments nor all the complaints, though it is impossible to ignore them. So, try to learn from them in order to do better and not simply use them for your pride or your self-pity. Preaching is and ought to be a spiritual event, but it is also a craft that can be improved with skill.
- Get over it quickly, both euphoria and despair. Fire and forget, leave the results to God, and remount the horse to ride again.
- Attribute, cite, and give credit where you can or at least admit it is not original with you if it isn’t. Borrow and steal ideas ruthlessly, just admit it.
- As to the length of sermons, as my friend John Perkins said, (and he was quoting from someone else); “when you are done preaching, stop talking!”