I once heard John MacArthur say that competitiveness was an important characteristic for good pastors, because a competitive pastor will always work to become a better pastor. Have you lost your edge? Have you become complacent? Are you resting on last year’s victories?
The great professional athletes never lose their drive to improve. With the exception of an Allen Iverson here and there, the dominant players in sports devote not a little time to practice, train, and work with coaches.
I was recently surprised at the overlap in principles in regard to how preachers and pro athletes improve. Many of the habits that push the pros to the top of their game carry over to pastors who want to reach the top of their pastoral game. I can think of five (well, six) in particular.
1. Watch film
The principle here is evaluate your past performance.
Quarterbacks watch film to see the wide open receivers they missed. In the same way, listen to your sermons to learn how you need to tune up how you communicate. If you can get over how weird it is to listen to your own voice, you will see several areas that need to be improved.
In 2012, I began regularly listening to my sermons the week after I preached them. One mistake I discovered was my tendency to overuse a word or a phrase. Hopefully the folks listening were not as annoyed asme.
2. Get to the field early
This principle has to do with how bad you want to do your best.
The leaders of the team are always the first ones to hit the gym. After Junior Seau’s suicide, one teammate remarked that after Seau signed with the Patriots, he demanded that a trainer unlock the practice facility at 4:30 a.m. No wonder he was so good for so long.
How could that translate to your preaching ministry? At the 1996 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, Kent Hughes outlined his Sunday morning ritual. He arrived at his office at 5:30 a.m. to read over his sermon and pray himself into his passage. He wanted to do his best.
3. Practice fundamentals
This reflects the principle of doing the little things correctly.
Larry Brown used his coaching philosophy, “play the right way,” to lead the unheralded Detroit Pistons to an NBA championship victory over Kobe, Shaq, and Phil Jackson.
He succeeded because of his focus on the basics.
Have you slipped out of the using your languages, if you learned them? Are you rusty on your systematic and biblical theology? Do you pray throughout your sermon prep?
These are the fundamentals of preaching: what the text means, where it fits in the story of the Bible and the doctrine of the church, and what the Spirit wants to do with it in your heart and the hearts of your congregation.
Or have you found a way to get “results” with a pragmatic approach to preaching?
4. Execute a game plan
In other words, aim to do something, and do it.
While the team’s goal is always to win, their game plan changes from opponent to opponent. The success of the team rides on the ability of each player to execute his role in the game plan.
You need a game plan for every sermon. Preaching is more than just communicating what the text means. The meaning of the text must do something in your hearers. While this something must be in line with the passage, and will be strongly influenced by the passage, it’s the preacher’s responsibility to discern it, and infuse it into his sermon.
The something could be how to apply the passage, a doctrine within the passage to treasure, etc.
For each sermon, I set out to find, through prayer and study, how the passage ought to affect my listeners. Then I include that something in my FCF, proposition, and main points with a unifying key word or phrase. This ties the whole sermon together and aims it toward the plan I want to execute.
5. Hit your go-to guy (a.k.a., Jesus)
Here, the principle is let the superstar on your team do his thing.
As you approach the pulpit, it’s easy to envision Jesus handing the ball to you, patting you on the butt, and whispering in your ear, “Go get ’em.”
The exact opposite needs to happen. As you head up to preach, pray to Jesus that he would be your strength, and that he might do his work by his Spirit. Hand hand the ball off to him.
Bonus: Get a coach
The thing that has helped me grow in my preaching the most is to receive input from other trained preachers. I like to get feedback on my sermon before and after I preach. If I missed anything in my study, I can make adjustments before Sunday. And if I don’t communicate something clearly, that will be pointed out to me.
Is there someone at your church who could give you quality feedback on your sermon? If so, use that person as much as they will let you. You will grow as a preacher immediately.
(If you don’t know anyone who can give you feedback on your sermons, I offer sermon coaching. To learn more, click here.)
However you approach growing as a preacher, the bottom line is that you must grow. The biblical preacher is an ever-improving preacher. Paul said as much when he told Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.”