I started preaching 11 years ago at the age of 17. Since then preaching has been one of my greatest passions. Few things are as exciting as sharing the good news with people and watching them respond, some for the first time, and others for the hundredth. However, as is true of everything in life, I have had to learn some rough lessons over the years. Below are 5 of the most important lessons I have learned about preaching.
1) A hose is limp without water. Yes I know, it sounds weird but hear me out. When you pick up a hose the end immediately falls to the ground. This is because there is no water flowing through it. But once you turn the spigot all the way, the water begins to flow so powerfully that the hose lifts itself off the ground. This is also true of preaching. Without the power of the Holy Spirit flowing though your words, regardless of eloquence and brilliancy, they will fall flat on the ground. But when the Holy Spirit flows through, the words are infused with a power that bears them up and hearts are changed as a result. However, the Holy Spirit doesn't just show up because you prayed a little prayer. He shows up when you have laid every detail of your sermon at God's feet and relied fully on him for its preparation and delivery. This means that praying over your sermon is actually more important than researching, formulating, or rehearsing it.
2) A beautiful picture can't be seen in the dark. Preachers are called to preach all of God's word, not some of it. As a result we have limitless topics to preach on. Each of those topics paints a beautiful picture about God, but there is only one problem. No one will see the picture unless you shine the light on it. That light is Jesus. He is the light that makes sense of every Biblical topic. He is the center of scripture and all things make sense only when they are studied in the light of what he did on the cross. Every sermon should point people to Christ and lift him up higher. Regardless of your topic, be it prophecy, health, marriage, parenting, faith, or overcoming temptation if you present it without the light of Jesus no one will see the beautiful picture. As preachers we are called to shine the light of Christ and this can only be done when he is the center of our preaching (not just the conclusion).
3) Don't call people chickens. A few years ago I heard a popular preacher criticize a young couple he saw making out on campus. His sermon was all about how God's people should be like eagles not chickens. His words were something like "I saw two chickens kissing each other on campus today." A year or so later it was revealed that this preacher had been cheating on his wife for quite some time. My initial thoughts were "who's the chicken now?" But as I think back I realize there is an important lesson here. As preachers we have the uncomfortable responsibility of often having to expose and denounce sin, especially those we see being embraced by our fellow Jesus-followers. However, we must always do so humbly recognizing that we ourselves are just as capable of falling into those same sins. So don't arrogantly call people chickens because you may just end up being a chicken someday.
4) Lose the "holy" voice & vocab. Nothing is more annoying than a preacher who talks one way in private and another way on the stage. I used to do this. When I spoke in private I was down to earth and personable. When I got on stage to speak I dropped by voice, changed my mannerisms, and altered my vocabulary to sound more "holy". I have since realized that there is nothing unholy about simply being me and that the "holy" voice comes across as phony and inauthentic. Along with the "holy" voice is the temptation to speak like you still live in the 1800's. For some reason conservative Christians fall into the false idea that talking like the folk from way back then is holier. Lodged deep in our subconscious is the false idea that this old language is "holier". It's not. And not only that, its annoying. So be yourself.
5) Stop talking to grandma. I am so tired of hearing all these preachers who sound like they are having a conversation with their grandma at a coffee shop. While preaching should be authentic and down to earth we do need to remember that it is, nevertheless, preaching not guessing, not suggesting, and not chatting. To preach is to proclaim and you can't do so if your sermons sound like a soft spoken counseling session. Many modern preachers, in attempting to lose the "holy" voice have unwittingly gone too far in adopting a hyper-conversational tone that lacks power and conviction. A preacher should be down to earth, but should also sound like he/she actually believes what they are saying. So stop talking to grandma and preach!