"Nothing improves preaching like constant prayer, effective prepartion, and frequent reps. "
Improving your preaching gift is like dieting for weight loss - progress develops over time and doesn't happen overnight. It's hard work. Slowly, week after week and sermon after sermon, you begin to learn a few things. Eventually, they say, you find your voice (I'm still working on this).
As a pastor and church planter, I wear a number of hats and bear a growing amount of responsibility. Yet of all that God has called me to, nothing demands more work and dispenses more joy in my ministry than preaching.
I desperately want to be a better preacher. By God's grace, I've grown immensely over the last 5 years, but I still have so much more to learn. While I have a shelf filled with books on preaching, none of them has been the primary source of my growth as a preacher. They've been helpful and taught me much, but the following three practices continue to improve my preaching more than anything...
1. Constant Prayer
E.M. Bounds said, "Prayer makes preaching strong, gives it unction, and makes it stick." If I'm honest, I didn't pray nearly enough when I first started preaching, and nothing has impacted my preaching more than consistent, urgent, and intentional prayer. Commentary, the original languages, and outside aids are all important and have a place, but nothing will shape your sermon like prayer.
Simply put, preachers can't pray too much. Spurgeon (who wasn't a half-bad preacher) said, "If you can gather your matter on your knees at the gate of heaven, you will not fail to speak well." Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray as you choose your text. Pray as you study. Pray as you write. Pray before you preach. Pray while you preach. Pray after you preach. Nothing is more important to the preparation of the preacher and the sermon than prayer.
2. Effective Preparation
Coming up with a good rhythm for sermon prep takes time, and no two preachers share the exact same process. What's most important is that we're working to hone a helpful, thoughtful, and thorough process.
Breaking my prep into sequential steps has been the most helpful for me. Once you have the right steps, you need them in the right order. Every preacher's first step should always involve an open Bible, an empty piece of paper, and fervent prayer. Where you go from there is up to you, but never make the mistake of knowing what you want to say and then finding a text to support your thoughts. Nobody wants, or needs, to hear what we think. They need to hear what God thinks. That means we have to get in God's Word and prep our sermons from it.
3. Frequent Reps
Bottom line: It's impossible to improve as a preacher apart from actually preaching. Prior to planting Redemption, I didn't preach weekly. As a result I saw very little improvement from sermon to sermon. By God's grace, I now preach upwards of 46 weeks out of the year, and my growth has been significant. I no longer feel the pressure to say everything each week, or focus on every facet of improvement with each sermon.
This may come as very discouraging news if you don't currently have a weekly opportunity to climb into the pulpit and preach. So what can you do if you don't preach every week? Well, for starters, trust the Lord's timing with that. In addition, start to approach every opportunity you get to share God's Word as a rep. If you get 5 or 10 minutes to do a devotional for students, that's a rep. If you have 2 minutes to set up a song as a worship leader, that's a rep. If you get to teach a class, that's a rep. Take every opportunity God provides to open the Scriptures and point people to Jesus. Over time your faithfulness will bear fruit.
The Church needs better preachers. Your church needs a better preacher. My church needs a better preacher. If we're constant in prayer, effective in our preparation, and seize every rep God's gives us, God Himself will grow our preaching. Let's get to work.