Have you thought about how you are going to grow as a preacher this year? What do you need work on improving? What bad habits do you need to not do so much?
And what are you going to do to make those improvements happen?
John Broadus, a 19th century homiletics professor and seminary president, is considered to be the father of modern day expository preaching. In his book, On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, Broadus offers five ways to improve as a preacher (p. xv). Despite who long ago he wrote, each of these avenues is still highly effective today. He says, “Besides treatises on preaching, the chief sources of instruction in homiletics are as follows:”
1. “The preaching that we hear, when heard with fraternal sympathy and prayerful desire for spiritual benefit, and yet with critical attention.”
Let’s break that down.
Fraternal sympathy means to listen to people whose church you would want to attend if you lived in that area. Listen to people who you identify with in philosophy of ministry and theology. This doesn’t only go for well-known pastors. Listen to your friends in ministry, too.
Prayerful desire for spiritual benefit means you don’t only listen for the sake of improving your preaching, but also for the sake of your soul. Do you pray before you listen to a sermon on you iPhone? (I can’t say that I often do.) If you don’t spiritually benefit from the pastors you listen to, it’s not likely your people will spiritually benefit from what you apply from then in your own pulpit.
With critical attention means you listen for the pastor’s strengths and weaknesses, and consider what you should apply – and not apply – from his homiletical habits. I’ve tried my hand at this in my posts on how to preach like well-known pastors without sounding like them.
2. “Published sermons, the value of which is readily acknowledged.”
Reading sermons is a good compliment to listening to sermons, since it allows you to linger over the content of the sermon. There is a difference, however, between reading sermons and reading books that were originally sermons. When a book is published from a series of sermons, it is edited to be suitable to the reading public. These books will not help you grow in your preaching as much sermons published straight from the sermon manuscript.
3. “Biographies of preachers, which to one having a general knowledge of homiletics, are often surpassingly instructive.”
The common ground we pastors share with many of the impactful Christians of the past enables us to glean much from their biographies. They remind us that the whole life you live affects the flavor of your preaching, not merely the ingredient of your homiletical skill.
4. “The criticism of instructors or judicious hearers upon our own preaching.”
The key here is “instructors or judicious hearers.” That means don’t take to heart the daggers of complainers or those who only offer destructive criticism. Also, don’t ask for feedback from people from whom you expect only positive remarks. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6).
Ask an elder, another pastor, or someone else who knows good preaching to listen closely to a sermon, take some notes, and share their thoughts over hot coffee or a cold beer.
At the church where I serve, the pastors gather every Wednesday to provide feedback on the how the Sunday morning sermon went, and to preview the next Sunday’s sermon. Perhaps you could start something like that at your church.
(If you don’t have anyone nearby who you think can offer you solid homiletical feedback, maybe sermon coaching is something you would benefit from.)
5. “Careful observation of our faults, as developed in actual practice, with resolute and patient effort to correct them.”
Although every preacher has blind spots, which is why we need feedback on our sermons, at the end of the day we are our own best (and worst) critic. I can usually list several things I wish I had done better after any sermon I preach. We need to be patient with ourselves, knowing that developing takes time. But we should not let that be an excuse not to persist toward improvement every week.
Pick two or three
Trying out all five of these at the same time would be a bit overwhelming. It would probably take up too much time from other priorities (like preparing actual sermons). Which two or three do you think would help you the most? Give them a try. And may 2014 be a year where “all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:15).