By Chuck Lawless
I’m a professor who doesn’t like course evaluations and a preacher who doesn’t enjoy sermon critiques. So, I’m leery of telling others how to improve their preaching or teaching. Nevertheless, here are 15 ways (some that are perhaps surprising) to improve your communicating the gospel:
- Assume you need to improve. If you genuinely believe you have no room for improvement, ask others until you find someone who’s honest enough to help you (in fact, that person might tell you that you sometimes come across as arrogant).
- Consider the last time you intentionally improved your approach. If your last intentional improvement occurred years ago, or if you can’t remember when it was, you may have become stagnant as a communicator.
- Read the Bible and pray every day. This suggestion is basic, but it matters. Preachers and teachers who read the Scriptures only to prepare a lesson have reduced the Bible to a textbook for others. Those who communicate without praying regularly are operating in their own power.
- Forsake sin in your life. Again, it’s foundational yet imperative. Sin drains our passion for God and robs us of our power for communicating the gospel. Open the Scriptures with a clean heart, though, and it’s pure joy.
- Spend more time with your congregation. Your job is to teach the Word, but it’s more than that: it’s to teach people the Word. In fact, it’s a particular people: your class or your congregation. Know them so well that you can help them apply the Word to their lives.
- Enlist a prayer team. Don’t assume others are praying regularly for you as you preach or teach. Enlist prayer warriors who will intercede specifically for your holiness, your preparation, and your teaching. Know you will be proclaiming the Word under the power of God.
- Study preaching and teaching. Search for online preaching or teaching classes (e.g., my president at Southeastern Seminary, Danny Akin, offers a free course on “Interpreting and Teaching the Bible: http://goo.gl/4M6rtv). Read books about preaching and teaching (e.g., http://goo.gl/s4KAGH). Even veteran preachers and teachers can usually learn from reviewing these materials.
- Listen to other preachers. If you think you preach or teach too long, listen to someone who is more concise. Learn the value of stories and illustrations by considering what you remember from a sermon. Take note of good introductions and conclusions. Absorb from others without trying to become somebody else.
- Invite others to help you prepare. Enlist others to walk with you as you put together your sermon or lesson. Invite them to critique your exegesis and your proposed outline. Preach the sermon to them first. If time won’t allow you to take this approach each week, try it at least once a month.
- Simply and clearly answer the “what,” “so what,” and “now what” questions. What does the biblical text say? Why does that truth matter? As a listener, what am I to do with this teaching? If you as the preacher or teacher can’t answer these questions, neither will your hearers.
- Practice. Read your manuscript or outline again and again. Teach it in your head – or to the wall . . . or your infant . . . or your dog . . . or to the air – multiple times. Know the material so well that you can connect easily with your audience when teaching it.
- Do immediate reflection. As soon as possible after teaching or preaching, jot down some notes. What worked well? What needs to be changed? Make notes while your teaching is hot in your mind.
- Listen to and watch your own sermons or lessons. For the sake of communicating the gospel better, become the audience for your own teaching or preaching. And, if you discover no room for improvement, go back to suggestion #1 above and invite others to listen to your message with you.
- Invite unchurched folks to listen to your sermons or lessons. Ask an unchurched friend or unbeliever to critique your teaching. Find out if he or she understands your points. Determine how often you use Christian jargon. See if your friend sees your teaching as applicable. Give it a try – your friend might even turn to Jesus!
- Take care of yourself physically. Eat properly. Sleep well. Take your days off. Go on your vacation. An exhausted, out of shape preacher or teacher is not a good witness for the transforming power of the gospel.
What other suggestions would you make?