One of the roles I get to play is that of coach. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to coach others on different areas of ministry not the least of which has been preaching. From coaching staff members to leading seminars, it’s been a joy to talk with others about the art, discipline, and grace of preaching. Often I find myself having the same conversations because preachers of different ilks can run into similar ruts. That’s why I thought it might be helpful to give an excerpt from a recent coaching session with a friend of mine. He’s given me permission to share my reflections after I listened to three of his messages. I’ve changed the content (e.g., added issues not necessarily present in my friend’s sermon) to both generalize what I often see in others and to de-personalize my report. Here is the first of two parts. See if any of these suggestions might serve you well:
Don’t be lazy with your introduction.
You rolled into your sermon like an exhausted 5th grader coming home from a lock-in. Jump in with both feet and start at the start. Your humorous inside joke/sidebar comments may be endearing to your insiders but they only tell your outsiders: 1) figure out when you really need to listen, and 2) you’re an outsider.
Stay in the text longer.
What does this text say? What does it mean? How did you arrive there? I know you’ve gone through the text but have you allowed enough time to let the text go through the congregation? Don’t let a text serve merely as a jumping off point for a rant.
Reduce the details in your illustrations.
Reduce the number of your illustrations.
Think of details as mud. A little bit of it will help the illustration stick. Too much and your listeners can get stuck. Furthermore, your sermon samples have too many illustrations that are mile wide, inch deep. I’m left wandering aimlessly as the listener. Grab your best illustration and take me deeper within it.
Connect the dots for the listener.
Never assume they can follow your train of thought intuitively. What is intuitive in your head may be obstructed in theirs. I’d encourage you to start saying, “I say that to say this” to the end of each illustration to force you to find the connecting points between the illustration and the message idea. When I listened to your sermons I often found myself asking, “How does this story/reflection move the ball down the field?”
Illustrate the solution as well as the problem.
You spent more time talking about how bad things were but little about the good. For example, you mentioned in only two sentences what true gospel engagement looks like personally (e.g., “First you must understand how broken you are…”) and simply concluded, “We accept the gospel as news not as advice.” Awesome! But what does that mean? What does that look like? Show that truth in real-time in the lives of your listeners! Paint a picture for your listeners of gospel application.
Stay tuned for Part 2…