10 steps to better preaching

How do you progress as a preacher? Here are 9 quick tips...

1. Prepare more. Obvious, isn't it - but does your diary reflect it? It takes a certain discipline to be reading now for next year's preaching, or committing to less in a week in order to commit more to reading the word. The longer you go on as a preacher the easier it is to 'knock out a sermon' faster or microwave something you prepared earlier. There will be weeks like that - but it's not a good way to be feeding the flock.

2. Leave out the boring bits.  Yes, there are boring bits and they are the fault of the preacher not the bible. Be ruthless and drop the stuff that is dull. Suddenly you'll find your sermons are shorter and more interesting.

3. Don't wait till Sunday. As you work on the passage try things out as you meet with people during the week. My men's breakfast group and some guys I meet with 1 to 1 are better than a sounding board for the sermon as work in progress - they'll often hear ideas they have on the passage coming back at them on Sunday!

4. Ditch notes - sermons should be spoken and heard not written and read. Any preacher really can easily learn to go into the pulpit with an open bible and a very brief outline and speak for 20 minutes.

5. Speak to the people who aren't there yet - I think I've stolen this one from Tim Keller. If you just preach to the choir then they'll never have confidence to invite others or be taught how to communicate the truth to their friends family and neighbours.

6. Have an argument - put up some of the alternative belief systems to the text that people may hold - show how God's word shows a better way and is a better belief. Arguments are always more interesting and forces people to think about where they stand.

7. Speak to the people who are there -  what needs to be said differently to reach this particular gathering of people? Are you connecting with the literacy, age, learning styles, special needs, cultural backgrounds, life questions of those that are there? The quickest test of this is asking how different the early morning seniors sermon is from the family sermon. Preaching the same passage to different congregations demands a different talk.

8. Avoid trite application - The congregation here know when I've prayerfully sat under the Word of God and it has rebuked and challenged me in concrete ways. Think carefully through how the particular text challenges our understanding of God, his world, ourselves, our church and its mission, our city etc.  Don't try & say everything but show how this part of God's word speaks to us. 

9. Talk about Jesus every week - we are here to preach Christ crucified. Our sermons must therefore sound different from those of the synagogue.

10. Listen to your own podcast - the pain will be worth it. There is no faster way to hear what you actually sound like and see what needs to change.

The Rev Michael Kellahan has experienced the highs and lows of church planting. He also understands ministering in a less well-resourced context, and is currently rector of St Barnabas, Roseville East in Sydney's north.

Comments (8)

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  • Dan Baynes
    December 4, 11 - 8:11am
    Surprised at the lack of comments so far!

    Michael, these are all excellent points - well done, a very worthwhile compilation.

    I might add re. (2), "Leave out the platitudes." Cf. (8), i.e. "Avoid trite statements." Almost nothing will switch off hearers as fast as that! Needless to say, vain repetitions of pointless synonyms etc., what I call "preacher's padding", are an even greater abomination.

    (9) makes me wonder where one might hear audio recordings of sermons of a contemporary synagogue, preferably an Orthodox one. Any links?

    Somewhat parallel to you points (5) and (7), what I call the need to preach simultaneously for the newest and the most wizened Christian in the pews, without befuddling the former or boring the latter. Like that special drill astrophysical engineers had to design to cope with the unknown surface of an asteroid they were sending a probe to - it had to be able to cope with a whole range of hardness of the material it would find there!
  • Richard Littledale
    December 5, 11 - 8:53pm
    Some great stuff in here. You might also be interested in this "recipe for preaching: http://richardlittledale.wordpress.com/2010/10/24/a-recipe-for-preaching-i/, and this response to Mark Driscoll's list of what he looks for in a preacher: http://richardlittledale.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/things-i-look-for-in-a-preacher/ - the latter has received in excess of 700 hits already.
  • Glenjamin Elsegood
    December 6, 11 - 10:15am
    Hi Michael, Just wondering if I might add to your point 9, it may seem pedantic, but surely we should be preaching Christ crucified and risen? I have found in the past that I have focused on His death to the detriment of explaining the significance of His rising...

    Perhaps that's simply my own problem?
  • Michael Kellahan
    December 6, 11 - 1:57pm
    Glenjamin, I was thinking of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 2. The crucified One is the risen Lord. It is true that some preaching can awkwardly fit in a Jesus bit in odd ways - we know we should say something so we jump to the cross. Good preaching g though will show Jesus on every page of scripture. You can see great models of that kind of biblical theology in the Jesus storybook children's bible or Graham Goldsworthys books or the Moore College PTC notes.
  • Andrew Michael Drury
    December 7, 11 - 8:19am
    Point 10 is invaluable! Listen to yourself on recording.

    It's a case of being honest with where you are at and growing from there. Sometimes it's good to listen a few weeks after the preaching date when all your background research has faded somewhat and to see how well the points still stand on their own.
  • Michael Kellahan
    December 7, 11 - 9:23am
    Thanks Andrew
    Long long ago I did some work with a barrister who was training other barristers in advocacy. They paid thousands to sit in a room with a video camera. They'd give a speech, watch it back & without any other feedback speak again & again. They'd never watchd themselves speak before then - although this was their stock in trade. Once they saw themselves as others did they knew what to change. Painful but I've never seen a more effective technique.
  • Mark Elkington
    December 8, 11 - 9:42am
    Hi Michael, great suggestions. I'd also note the value of first spending time with God in the passage. Seek him in his word, pray, wait, listen, read other scripture, think, contemplate, confess, repent, praise, give thanks. Take your time. Start with your focus on a devotional encounter, and then work outwards to the details of exegesis, structure, issues, arguments, commentaries, illustrations and applications.
  • Michael Kellahan
    December 9, 11 - 10:48am
    Couldn't agree more. Drop everything else on the list if this ain't happening. I'd assumed it in #1.