Since the preaching of the gospel is the primary means by which God saves His people, ministers of the gospel should concern themselves with pursuing growth in their ability to skillfully communicate the truth of Scripture. Pastors should avail themselves of all the means of growth that are at their disposal. In so doing, we may never become the best preachers in the world, but we will–by God’s grace–become more skillful in making known “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
It is a shared experience that ministers of the gospel simultaneously find the preaching of God’s word to be a most joyous and a most burdensome task. It is a joyous task, insomuch as one recognizes that the Kingdom of God advances as the Scriptures are faithfully proclaimed. It is a burdensome experience on account of the fact that ministers often feel as though they have never proclaimed God’s word skillfully enough (not to mention the fact that delivering a public monologue once or several times a week is a challenge in and of itself). A man who is called into the ministry of the gospel ought to desire growth in this most sacred task. However, the better part of ministers I know feel lost about how they can improve their preaching.
Recently, a company of pastors–of which I have been a part for 8 or so years––was discussing what practical steps a minister can take in order to improve his preaching. Here are a some of the thoughts that emerged from that discussion:
1. Never Assess Your Preaching on Monday.
Ministers are worn and discouraged on the Monday after they have preached. Seasons of dispondancy or discouragement are never good times to self-critique. There is wisdom to waiting until Tuesday or Wednesday to think about what you could have done or said differently in the sermon you recently preached.
2. Don’t Confuse Improvement with Effectiveness.
So often we confuse wanting to be effective with wanting to be skilfull. A man may preach a sermon that is magnificently crafted from an exegetical, theological, applicatory, and homeletical standpoint, while having it seem to fall on deaf ears. We never know what the Lord is doing in sending His word out at any given time. As Paul reminds the Corinthians, “One man plants, another waters, but God gives the increase.” That increase might happen sooner or later. It may be that God is silently sanctifying one or many of His people under the ministry of the gospel. It may also be that God is hardening the hearts of some who hear. There is no biblical call for ministers to assess the effectiveness of their preaching. However, a man can labor to critique his skillfulness in preaching God’s word. We must resist the urge to conflate these two distinct outcomes.
3. Run the Text Past Other Pastors Prior to Preaching.
I have often sought to get feedback from faithful and gifted friends in ministry prior to preaching a particular passage of Scripture. This may happen at the beginning of the week, prior to preaching, or it may happen on Sunday morning prior to the service. If you have an especially difficult passage of Scripture–and you have done the hard work of exegetiing and preparing your exposition–it can be beneficial to run what you are wanting to say by a gifted friend in ministry. This is one of the best ways to glean new insights about what you plan on preaching or to make sure that you communicate some point clearly.
4. Listen to the Best Preachers on the Passage Your Preach.
I have long listened to other preachers, for the simple reason that I want to become the best preacher I can possibly be. If I were a doctor, I would want to learn from the best doctors in my field. This goes for every other profession. To that end, I recommend that ministers listen to the best preaching on whatever passage they are preparing to preach. Sinclair Ferguson, Eric Alexander, William Still, Edward Donnelly, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Ian Hamilton, Derek Thomas, and Iain Duguid are some of my go-to preachers (I clearly have a penchant for the expositional preaching of the Brits). You can not only learn exegetical, theological, and church historical insights from their preaching, you can study their delivery in order to learn what makes them skilfull public speakers. Labor to integrate (without verbal imitation or plagiarizing) the best of their preaching into your own.