Public speaking can be an intimidating thing. Up to 75% of Americans have glossophobia, the fear of public speaking. I remember in Freshman English class struggling to stop shaking as I held my speech and trying desperately to keep eye contact with someone smiling so that I could make it through my first solo speech. I thought I was not cut out for getting up in front of a bunch of people and trying to say something intelligent. There was no way I thought I would be preaching and carrying the weighty task of expounding from God’s Word.
However, here I find myself a young, aspiring pastor with half a dozen to a dozen sermons under my belt, and I feel a galaxy away from the shaking 14 year-old I was in Ms. Pieper’s classroom. I am forever grateful to the healthy minor league system that my pastor, Chuck Marshall, has established from day 1 of Waukesha City Church. It’s allowed me opportunities to become battle-tested and to make a pile of mistakes and learn where I fell short and I excelled.
That being said, I know there are some newbies who are venturing into the foray of preaching and could use some advice from someone going through what they are starting. As a solid member of the Single-A preaching team, I offer three nuggets from the prepping process, the actual sermon delivery, and three cents on post-sermon practices.
- Depend on the Spirit in prayer – This is a big key. You cannot tackle preaching without the work of the Spirit and expect to reach the hearts of those listening. I learned this in a big way from a recent sermon I gave, where I prepped less and prayed more. I will share that story another day. Story aside, it is the Holy Spirit who reminds us of Jesus’ words (John 16:13; John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:10) and brings us into a full knowledge of Him. Depend on Him to speak and to guide your prep time.
- Leave a bunch at your desk – Big mistake I have made a number of times. It is important to practice the art of studying broader and beyond what you preach, but to leave a bunch of it behind. You are delivering a sermon not a book reading. Take what you learned and condense it down to avoid preaching way too long and lulling your audience into a slumber. Besides, young preachers should not be aiming to preach more than a half hour anyways. Ed Stetzer has a helpful article on guest-preaching that applies to a lot of what first time preachers are doing.
- Do your own exegesis and study first – Commentaries and other pastors and theologians will help sharpen up your sermon, provide illustrations, she light on tough passages, and help clarify theological positions, but it is important that your own voice is still allowed to emerge. It is too easy to let someone else’s sermon or argument eclipse your own study and pretty soon you are just a parrot for that particular persons views. Establish your own voice, and you will find you will be a better preacher with more effective sermons in the long run.
- Try to sit still – Nothing is more distracting than a preacher pacing all over the place and gesticulating until they work up nasty armpit sweat. Sit still, since it surprisingly calms nerves, as well. Some use pulpits, music stands, or stools. I actually am a fan of the pulpit since it is an anchor to me at this point. Someday I might move away from it, but for now it is helpful for keeping my movements from being a distraction.
- Easy on the water – One time I took up two glasses and drained them almost instantly out of nerves and then had the distraction of running out and someone getting me more. Another time I kept drinking in the middle of sentences, which got warning shakes of the head from my wife. The last time I preached I had no water, and it was no problem. I don’t suggest not having, since you never know when you might inhale dust, catch a frog in your throat, or swallow a passing seagull. I would advise taking one glass up with you and use such glass only in one of the aforementioned emergencies.
- Depend on the Spirit to speak – Preaching begins and ends with the Holy Spirit. If we fail to depend on the Spirit when we preach, we are relying on our own works and capabilities. That might mean you give a good sermon, but it doesn’t mean that you effectively preached the word of God. Pray before, pray during, and pray after that the Holy Spirit bores deep into the hearts of your hearers and explodes their soul with the realities of the gospel. Jesus’ already accomplished our salvation and the salvation of those who are hearing you. Stop trusting in your ability and your intelligence and know-it-all and have faith that the Spirit is at work.
- Listen to your sermons and take notes – I am still trying to heed my own advice on this, since I tend to be too hard on myself. However, it is important (I hope I am listening to myself right now) to find out what is distracting in your speech patterns, where you honked your sermon, and where you nailed it.
- Go easy on yourself – As I said above, I tend to be too hard on myself. I am not and you are not John Piper or Greg Laurie. Evaluate yourself as if you are new because you are new at this! Learn, grow, correct, and lighten up!
- Be thankful – Preaching is NOT something to be taken lightly. Thank the Father that he has blessed you with the opportunity to preach His word and to proclaim His excellencies before His people, the church. Preaching is to be the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry. You are not called just to talk about God, but to exhort God’s people to go out and live as disciples of Jesus Christ. Be thankful for those who gave you the opportunity, be thankful that no one threw anything at you (unless it was part of the sermon or an illustration), and be thankful especially if they want you to do it again!