Six Points for Preachers

I’m scheduled to attend a conference on preaching soon so inevitably I’m thinking about how preaching works and about how to extend my homiletic repertoire.

Someone asked me a good question yesterday – “How did you improve as a preacher”. It is a good question because it is affirming and something that all preachers should be able to have a go at answering. (It was asked of me incidentaly by someone who has never heard me).

I remember long ago during my curacy, one of my training rectors (I got through more than most) saying after one of my sermons “That was good, you’re going to be an excellent preacher one day”. What was intended to be a compliment made me fizzing mad. I wanted to be excellent than (and maybe even thought I was).

I wasn’t, but I know I’ve got better.

Which leads me to six things that I think have helped me:

1 – Accepting that there is always more to learn. When you think you’ve got preaching sussed, you are a long way from even beginning to get better. Everyone can improve. Learning to learn is a learnable skill.

2 – Putting it online. I’ve got better as a preacher since I started putting sermons online. Why? Well, for two reasons – firstly, because I listen to myself preach when I’ve made a recording and that allows me to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Secondly because I know who might listen – people who taught me; people who are close enough to me to be honest with me; people who are apt to criticise me. I preach not only for those sitting in church but for all the rest who might be listening along – including the angels. It may be that those who are most help in learning how to preach are those whose opinions you value the most and those whose opinions you value the least. Listen to both.

3 – Learning to fail boldly. To preach is to risk. Accept it and know that sometimes what you hoped for won’t work. Experiment. Play.You don’t have to fit it all into one sermon and you are not going to be 100% right all of the time so why pretend?

4 – Trying to learn what makes people smile. That is different in different places. People usually like it when you tell stories about yourself. But be careful for local variations. I was recently in a place where someone said “Don’t try self deprecatory humour here. if you do they’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re not that bad’ and give you a self-help book.”

5 – Knowing that people like it when you give something of yourself. Yes, preaching, like blogging, is a striptease. Don’t show them everything. But know that if you don’t show them anything they may go away disappointed. Reveal yourself. That’s what God has given you and in the bizarre economy of the Kingdom of God your own feeble experience of God may be the pearl of great price. But only if you keep sharing.

6 – Realising that people need to be told that God loves them. And told again. And told again.