Here are 10 suggestions I have for all young preachers. Some I learned from others (they are the good ones) and some I learned on my own or from the school of hard knocks.
1. Prioritize your devotional life. You ignore this one at your peril. You can get by for a while, I’m afraid, just on some ability and talent. But in the long run, preaching comes out of who you are and your own walk with Jesus. Read the Bible for yourself and not just for preaching. Spend time with Jesus in prayer, worship and his word. God wants you and not just your preaching.
2. Read the Bible through every year. Read for breadth and for depth. Get to know the Bible well. Study the details of a text for your sermon but don’t neglect to get to know the overall message of God’s word. Over time, reading the Bible annually allows you to see major themes, understand the relationship of the Old and New Testaments and know the Bible story in a way that nothing else can provide. It will provide clarity to your understanding, richness to your theological insights and familiarity with truth.
3. Watch some video of yourself preaching. It can be brutal to watch replays of your messages. We see quirky gestures, bobbled words and botched stories. But we must, if we are to improve, be honest about our sermons. Preaching is about communicating the truth. Are we failing to communicate well by distracting hand waves, repeated usage of crutch words or never making eye contact with our audience? Learn to evaluate yourself rather than depending on spouse, friends or critics.
4. Preach out of love for God and people. Please remind yourself to preach for God’s pleasure rather than man’s. Remember to love those people in the congregation even though they are imperfect people just like the preacher. Beware angry preaching or reactionary preaching or depressed preaching. Be sure love is the motivation to do what you do. Love lost people, saved people, sweet people, sour people, people who love you back and those who don’t. Love God above all else.
5. Start your sermon preparation on Monday. Saturday night is a bad time to start the sermon and Sunday morning is even worse. Where possible, do at least a little sermon thinking on Monday and each day. Turning in my sermon notes by Thursday noon has been so good for me. Planning sermon texts and titles in advance is especially wise. (Though God can interrupt if he wants.)
6. Pray and get others to pray. Preaching matters so we should pray like it does. Ask God for direction in your planning. Ask him for clarity in your preparation. Ask for his power in your delivery. Prayer partners are wonderful. Ask some people to pray for you every day and especially before you preach.
7. Be the best version of you. Don’t be Billy Graham or any other preacher. Be you. Be the best version of you, but be you. God called you to preach your sermon. Learn from other preachers, of course, but be cautious about imitating them. Never plagiarize sermons. God wants this sermon to come out of your heart, mind and soul. God knows your weaknesses and abilities so be the best “you” you can be.
8. Learn to connect. Learn how to connect with people while preaching. Make eye contact rather than always looking down or over their heads. Tell some stories that grab their attention. Jesus told lots of stories. Connect with them before and after the message. Look them in the eye, shake their hand and laugh at their jokes. Listen to each but connect with as many as you can in those few moments before and after the sermon.
9. Preach with faith. God is big so preach like he is. He can do great things through you. That reality is more about God than about you. Believe he can use you. Believe he can use the sermon to changes lives. Trust him with everything and ask your hearers to trust him with everything.
10. Be passionate about preaching. Preaching is a God chosen method. Preaching isn’t your idea, but God’s. So bring some passion and some energy to this important task. Show some enthusiasm in your voice, mannerisms and words. Have more passion for preaching the eternal word of God than for hobbies, activities or politics. Preaching matters deeply so be passionate about doing it and, if God has called you to do it, pour yourself into it.
Preaching is a high and holy calling. Learn, study and improve. Preach with compassion, boldness and humility. But preach God’s word knowing that the One who called you did that for a reason. So preach it, preacher!