When you were a young preacher you didn’t know it yet, but you weren’t really very good. The closer you stayed to the scripture the safer you were but you still had much to learn about preaching. At least that’s what I’ve come to realize about myself. Fresh off the boat from seminary I was ready to take on the world. In my mind I was ready to hit the circuit with John Piper, Matt Chandler and David Platt.
By God’s grace, though, people entered my life to help me understand that this was a far cry from reality. And now as pastors and mentors, we have a great opportunity and responsibility to develop the inexperienced preachers in our churches. And often we don’t have to even say a word of criticism. The truth is, the act of preaching has this powerful effect already.
Bruce Thielemann writes:
The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailor; and like the sea, it batters and bruises, and does not rest. To preach, to really preach, is to die naked a little at a time, and to know each time that you do it that you must do it again.
So it is important to be firm but gentle in your training of inexperienced preachers, and in this you can have an instrumental place in training the next wave of Gospel proclaimers.
Here are three ways that have worked in my ministry and in others’ as we’ve worked to develop preachers and get our leaders from the pew to pulpit.
Let them try.
If we are going to raise up preachers we must give space to try. Many young preachers get their feet wet in a student ministry or Wednesday evening service, but there is something powerful when the whole church gathers together to hear God’s Word proclaimed. There are a number of places where preachers can get experience but if the goal is to prepare them for preaching to a whole congregation, there will need to be space for this to happen. Set a schedule that will help you plan your sermons and integrate others into the mix. I preach a maximum of three Sunday mornings a month, so the remaining Sunday becomes a training ground.
Meet with them before the sermon.
When the person comes to this meeting, they should have already picked a text, determined the main idea of the message (MIM) and created an outline. Most times I try not to look at the text beforehand so that I am not tempted to impose my outline on them. The goal of this meeting is not to rewrite or completely trash what they have created but to walk alongside them through the process. You want the primary teacher in this equation to be the Spirit of God. In the end always find opportunities to encourage what they have done well but also to address any significant concerns. Depending on how this meeting goes, you may want to schedule another meeting later in the week.
Follow up with them afterwards.
Keep in mind that preaching is like getting beaten in front of people, so be careful how critical you are in this meeting. After most sermons most preachers, no matter their experience level, feel pretty vulnerable already. So it’s important to focus mostly on what they did well. I find that asking questions about specific pieces of the sermon allows for more useful constructive feedback. This also allows the preacher to evaluate specific pieces of their sermon instead of seeing the whole as failure or success. This way they’ll be less likely to get discouraged. I always start with “what do you think went well?” Make sure to affirm the things that went well with practical helps on how to continue these and gently help them see where they could improve. Make sure to work through any major issues with constructive feedback.
Preaching is one of the most rewarding yet physically and spiritually exhausting things I’ve ever done. It is the mystery that God uses to feed the flock and call lost sheep to Himself. If you died tomorrow will you have prepared others in your congregation to carry this calling to invite others to the light of the Gospel?
Quote source: Koessler, John. The Moody Handbook of Preaching. Chicago: Moody Publishers.