The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

How can you be a better preacher?

Though the advice in this piece is aimed primarily at Protestant preachers, some of the ideas have applications for the rest of us, too:

In churches of any denomination, pastors serve and shepherd the people. Preaching is only one aspect of the work, but it is a very important one. Pastors can improve their preaching techniques by being thoroughly prepared. A pastor who waits until 10 P.M. on Saturday night to write out or outline a sermon is not preparing adequately. One who makes no notes and gives no thought to the sermon, relying instead upon the Holy Spirit to guide them in their preaching, is taking a chance on how the message will resonate with the people. Some who do this get good results and feedback, while others are not able to carry this off so well. On the other hand, pastors who begin early in the week to prepare for weekend services or Masses by outlining what will be preached, are a step ahead of the game. Between prayer and their own gifts and talents for preaching, these pastors will be known as well-prepared to the congregations, and parishioners will appreciate the sermon or homily much more when it is evident that it has been well thought-out.


Another area where pastors can improve their preaching is by keeping their sermon to subjects that people in this day and age can relate to. Taking passages from Scripture and showing how they relate to today’s culture and the challenges faced by society can be quite inspiring and can keep the interest of the people… even if the sermon takes a little longer. Most congregants are not there for a history lesson, so a pastor needs to keep this in mind if he or she tends to focus on Biblical history.

Other areas that deserve mention here include speaking clearly as opposed to mumbling, not going off on tangents that are unrelated to the sermon’s core message, keeping sexist content out of their sermons, keeping confidences instead of preaching about them, keeping the tone of voice up when infants cry or toddlers act out, refraining from being overtly political in their statements, and keeping the tendency to bash other denominations out of their preaching altogether.


Also, improvements can be made by keeping his or her own life out of the sermon most of the time. On a regular basis, hearing only about the pastor gets old. Most people do not come to church to hear all about the pastor’s childhood or teenage years. These subjects have little to do with scripture and everything to do with the pastor. When this happens, the pastor will have a hard time keeping his flock from visiting around at other churches. He or she will not gain a good reputation for preaching, and unless improvements are made, never will.

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posted June 28, 2010 at 12:24 am

One of the things that our preachers seem to lose sight of — if you have, in fact, said something profound that makes people change, then the most important thing you can do is to shut up and let it sink in. What’s really important is to say one thing and say it convincingly. If you have something else important to say, then if you’ve done a really good job with this one thing they’ll be back for more next week and then you can tell them that other thing then.
I’ve heard some excellent preachers in my day who needed 15-20 minutes to say one thing really well — and only people who actually looked at their watches at beginning and end would ever believe that it was that long. But typically when you go over 10-12 minutes it’s because you’ve wandered off to talk about something else.
So, rule of thumb — if you are succeeding at preaching, you need to shut up and give people room to process what you have said. If you are lousy at preaching, you need to shut up because people can only take so much drivel…

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posted June 28, 2010 at 8:34 am

“Also, improvements can be made by keeping his or her own life out of the sermon most of the time.”
I disagree. Our pastor tells stories that have happened in his life all the time. He’s lived quite a life and is always able to relate his stories to something we should learn in our lives. He is brutally truthful and down to earth. The stories help us to realize that he is human like us and keeps him on the road to humility.
Peace to all

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posted June 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm

re. “keeping his or her own life out of the sermon”. There are those who disagree. I’ve seen this used as a method of “connecting” to the audience (they are like me!), or illustrating the point you’re trying to make with a real world example from your own life. But there should be a good reason behind telling a story from your own life.

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Deacon Stephen

posted June 29, 2010 at 10:54 am

RE: Keeping the Preacher’s Life Out:
As a regular preacher – who is married with kids – I find that there is great truth on both sides here.
I think the general rule of keeping one’s personal life OUT is a good rule of thumb – UNLESS IT RELATES. I can’t tell you how many complaints I hear about deacons preaching that often goes like “If I hear him talk about his grandkids one more time I’ll scream”
The trick there is they’re obviously pulling their homily from their story, instead of the story to fit the homily. If they could do the LATTER and never getting in the habit of ALWAYS doing the same thing (ALWAYS THE SAME FORMULAIC HOMILIES ARE KILLERS to a Preacher’s credability – take that one to the bank) they’ll be good.
Preaching from life should only be practiced by an inherantly creative and experienced preacher – as Augustus McRae would say “Is not for the weak minded.”

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