How to Improve Preaching

lake dayI was reflecting this morning with a friend about our Lenten blogging experience   My friend was observing that the practice of writing something every day, even given word prompts, resulted in several themes reappearing over and over in the blog.

I suggested it’s the same with preaching.

We only have one story to tell…God loves us.  The challenge is to tell the story in fresh and compelling ways week after week after week.

Honestly, this is not something I was trained to do or taught in seminary   There the goal was exegeting the text.  Drawing the meaning(s) from scripture.  How to communicate the meaning discovered?  Ways we might apply the meaning in our day-to-day lives?  Implications for how we think about life?  I missed the class this was covered in our else it was believed we’d pick that up in our ministry settings.

However, in my ministry setting I found the pressure was not on crafting fine messages, but on tending the flock.  There is great emphasis placed on, and significant rewards given to, those who develop a pastoral heart.  Creatively sharing the Gospel?  Not that it wasn’t/isn’t appreciated, but I perceived the incentive to provide care fair outweighed the benefits of preaching through various styles, forms and media.

So I’m laying it on the line today.  If you want preaching that inspires, informs, motivates, challenges, and is generally more than a Bible study or a devotional reading, we should encourage a couple of things in our preachers.

1. Get a life.

We do only have one story to tell.  The key then is to have experiences to draw on that help us understand some facet or nuance of the story.  I suggest this is one of the reasons Jesus taught in parables.  Like a mustard seed…”Hey I’ve seen those, they are…”  There was a sower…”Ah, I’ve had birds eat my seeds…”  When the preacher engages in a hobby or some entertainment  this is more than releasing pressure or recharging the batteries.  This is living life.  A life that becomes story and illustration and connection with those hearing THE STORY.  So preachers need to go to sporting events, and the lake, and mountain-climbing.  You should find them spending time walking a trail, watching a movie, and reading books (for fun).  Preachers should collect stamps, learn to knit, bake cakes, tinker with cars, garden, and/or a bazillion other things that make up a life beyond praying, reading scripture, officiating at wedding/funerals, etc.

2. Get away.

How can preachers get a life if there isn’t any space to do so?  I was part of a conversation with a denominational leader a couple of weeks ago.  The talk turned to sabbatical leave.  This leader had the experience of enjoying a 10-week study leave.  10 weeks!  The leader advocated for what I initially thought sounded like a very long time to be out of the church by pointing out something I hadn’t thought about.  Take a week or two and the church will simply hold tight.  They’ll wait until the vacation is over before making any major decisions or taking any important action.  But if the leader is gone 10 weeks, the people take back ministry for themselves.  As it relates to preaching, this means by getting away, the preacher is more able to get away.  Put another way, by allowing the folks to own ministry, the preacher is free to “get a life” with less demand on their time and energy.  More time and energy is a good thing.  We should all seek such gifts and when we can bestow them on others, let’s.

You see here’s the thing.  For those of us who preach weekly (even those of us like myself who feel called to preach and love doing so), the Sundays don’t stop coming.  There’s one in every single week.  Our training doesn’t help us stay fresh and relevant.  Our practice can easily become routine.  We need to be out there living life.  We need time away to experience and gather and learn and grow.  And you dear reader can help make these things happen.  Reward your preachers for having hobbies.  Encourage your preachers to try new things.  You want to get really crazy?  Invite the preacher to your next party, day of fishing, bike ride.

You might blow their mind, you’ll definitely impact their preaching.

Life is better together,
Shawn

4 responses to “How to Improve Preaching

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