Most people want to excel in whatever they do. In every discipline, there are strategies and habits that help a person do what they do better. Preaching is no exception.
To speak of improving your preaching is to speak of methods. If you have improved as a preacher, it is because, consciously or subconsciously, you have learned new methods and made modifications to your preaching.
I personally don’t like doing things merely by accident; rather, I prefer a conscious, intentional approach to my growth and improvement.
Here are seven habits that pastors and preachers possess to ensure effective preaching.
1. They use commentaries.
There are some preachers who argue that commentaries are not necessary. This is tragic. The premise of a statement like that comes from the idea that God only speaks to them and no one else, and no one else’s ideas are worth incorporating.
But why wouldn’t an author of a commentary be led by the Spirit?
Charles Spurgeon sums up the need to use commentaries best in this quote:
In order to be able to expound the Scriptures, and as an aid to your pulpit studies, you will need to be familiar with the commentators: a glorious army, let me tell you, whose acquaintance will be your delight and profit. Of course, you are not such wiseacres as to think or say that you can expound Scripture without assistance from the works of divines and learned men who have labored before you in the field of exposition.
If you are of that opinion, pray remain so, for you are not worth the trouble of conversion, and like a little coterie who think with you, would resent the attempt as an insult to your infallibility. It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.
2. They share their sermon preparation notes ahead of time.
I have met preachers who were so secretive about what they were planning to share. This is a terrible mistake. I think sharing your preparation with a trusted friend or a group of people is beneficial, and can lead to improvement.
My wife is my helpmate. I share with her my sermon flow and the illustrations that I’m planning to use. Just when I think I have developed the “perfect” sermon, she finds some things that I can tweak and improve upon.
Whether it’s your spouse, a friend, or a ministry leader, it helps to have an outside perspective on your preparation. After all, who said that sermon preparation must be an individual task?
3. They have a preaching calendar.
This is a must if you preach on a regular basis. If you only preach occasionally, then don’t worry about this habit for now.
A preaching calendar alleviates the stress of deciding what you will preach on a weekly basis. Also, if you know what you will preach in the future, this will help you to keep your eyes and ears open for illustrations you may use based on everyday encounters in your life.
Learn everything you need to know about creating a preaching calendar here.
On a macro level, planning out your sermons ahead of time allows you to be more intentional about where you are leading the congregation as a whole.
4. They rehearse their sermon ahead of time.
I know this sounds weird. For some, this may feel too structured and unnatural. I get it. I felt weird the first time I tried this, too.
However, keep an open mind. Here are 2 benefits of preaching out loud before you preach to people:
- It helps you discover the “gaps” in your sermon. Things always look nice on paper. When you preach out loud, you will find those awkward pauses in your sermon. Your transitions may not be as smooth as you thought. It’s better to discover these gaps when you are alone than when you are in the middle of preaching to a room full of people.
- It tests your Illustrations. You will be amazed to hear how your illustrations sound out loud. Sometimes you will discover that this illustration is a “stretch” and does not tie in well with the point you’re trying to make.
You may discover that the story you tell out loud is horrible in comparison to the story you wrote on paper. This will challenge you to study the story more, so that you don’t butcher it in front of a crowd.
Note: You may be thinking, “this feels too structured and looks more reliant on self than on the Holy Spirit. But who says that the Holy Spirit is not involved in this process? I believe He’s involved in all of our preparation, not just the delivery.
5. They record and listen to their sermon.
It’s always a good practice to record the sermons you give, especially when you first start preaching. Like a sports team that watches films to improve their skills against an upcoming team, a preacher listens to his sermons. I must warn you that there is nothing more awkward than listening to yourself, but you can do it.
Listen for the “ums,” the unnecessary pauses, etc. Trust me, you will quickly discover the areas that you can improve on. If you have a video recording, watch for hand fidgeting, meaningless pacing, and your eye contact.
6. They don’t expect people to praise them.
If we are honest, there’s nothing like hearing encouraging words like “great sermon!” Scripture teaches us to encourage one another, doesn’t it (1 Thess. 5:11)? There is nothing wrong with complimenting others or receiving a “good job” yourself.
Make sure your heart is in the right place, though. If you seek the praises of man, then when criticism comes you will be in trouble. Instead, don’t take praises or criticism personally. Learn to gather both of them, and give it to Jesus in prayer.
7. They pray.
Change is very difficult without the help of the Holy Spirit. Here are 5 things that you should be praying for:
- That the Holy Spirit would guide you during your sermon preparation.
- That the Holy Spirit would prepare the listeners’ hearts to receive and respond to the messages you give.
- That unbelievers would be present and souls would be saved.
- That you would not get in the way of God’s work.
- That you would deliver the message in a way that would not bring attention to yourself, but instead to Jesus.
Question: What other habit would you add to the list? Leave a comment below.