What separates good preachers from great preachers? Charley Reeb, a Florida pastor known as a gifted preacher, says talent is less important than approaching the task with the right perspective and preparing effectively. He outlines ten things that you can do to become a great preacher.
While I wouldn’t argue that some great preachers are also gifted communicators, great talent is not essential to be a great preacher. All you have to do is learn and apply what great preachers do differently. The old adage is true: To be a success you must do the things others aren’t willing to do. This is far from an exhaustive list, but I believe it is a good start! So here is “The Big 10” (in no particular order):
Great preachers are always asking, “What do I want my listeners to DO with my sermon?” They are always moving from inspiration to application.
1. Connect with Listeners
Great preachers know that in order to get their messages across, they must connect with listeners. How do they do this? By preparing messages with their listeners’ perspective in mind, not their own. What they care about is if the message you are preaching will make a difference to their lives. Connecting with listeners doesn’t mean sacrificing the substance of your sermons. You can still preach rich, biblical, and challenging sermons, but in order for those sermons to be heard, you must frame them in a way that is interesting to your listeners. What questions are your listeners asking? Why should they care about your sermon?
2. Preach with Conviction
You know the old definition of a sermon, right? A sermon is a preacher speaking loudly to himself or herself. It is true. Great preachers study a Scripture text to find a sermon they need to hear and then preach that sermon to their listeners. This ensures that the sermon will be preached with genuine passion and conviction. Great preachers feel they will die unless they communicate what God has put on their hearts to say.
3. Preach for Response
Great preachers are always asking, “What do I want my listeners to DO with my sermon?” A lot of sermons contain the what, who, when, where, and why. Very few sermons contain the how. Great preachers are always moving from inspiration to application. They are always thinking about how their ideas and points can be applied in relevant and concrete ways. Great preachers also know that the gospel demands a response. They give listeners the opportunity to respond to their messages. Sermons should not be left in the sanctuary.
4. Open the Scriptures
Great preachers make Scripture come alive for their listeners. They bring out the wisdom and life changing truth in God’s Word. They make the Bible relatable and easy to understand. Great preachers motivate listeners to go home and read their Bible! If listeners tell you they went home after worship and read their Bible, you have succeeded, my friend.
5. Communicate Authentically
Great preachers have found their voice. They realize that God wants to use their unique personalities to communicate the gospel. Phillips Brooks defined preaching as “truth through personality.” It is okay to learn from other preachers and even emulate some of their qualities, but you will never become a great preacher trying to be someone you are not. Besides, today’s listeners can smell an inauthentic preacher from a mile away. God has called YOU to preach the gospel. Great preachers are not afraid to be themselves in the pulpit.
6. Cultivate a Deep Spiritual Life
I once heard someone say that congregations never rise above the spiritual maturity of their leaders. I believe this with all my heart. Great preaching comes from the fruit of your relationship with God. If you are always seeking to grow in your relationship with God, you will never run out of sermon material. Congregations cannot thrive without feeding on nutritious spiritual meals, and pastors cannot survive ministry without proper spiritual nutrition.
7. Build a Big Tool Box
Great preachers are always on the prowl for sermon material and illustrations and develop the discipline of writing them down and filing them away. There are many ways to do this. Write small topic notes in the table of contents of books, type in ideas in the “notes” app of your phone, keep a small notebook in your pocket at all times, create a box for sermon material and illustrations and throw copies of articles and notes in it, or keep a legal pad and pen on your desk and on your bedside table. Great preachers keep filling the well.
8. Preach from Brokenness
Great preachers are not afraid to be vulnerable. This does not mean using the pulpit and your congregation as a therapist and airing all of your dirty laundry. However, profound healing can occur in your listeners when you are willing to share out of your brokenness. In fact, it could be said that you really don’t start preaching until you have been broken and experience God in your brokenness. What you learn in the midst of your valleys will make up some of your best sermons.
Great preachers always rehearse their sermons before they preach them. They truly know their sermons “by heart.” Whether you prepare a manuscript, an oral manuscript, or outline, if you want to go from good to great as a preacher, rehearse your sermons. And don’t think that rehearsing will prevent your sermons from sounding lively and fresh. The opposite is true. Rehearsing your sermons will give you more freedom in the pulpit because you will never feel lost or afraid of forgetting your ideas. There will be a well worn sermon path in your brain which will allow you to deviate from the path when led and still find your way back home.
10. Listen to Other Preachers
Gone is the excuse that we as preachers can never listen to other preachers because we are always preaching. The internet contains millions of sermon videos from great preachers. Carve out time to watch them and learn from them. Observe and study what they do effectively. There will always be something you can learn and apply to your preaching ministry.
This article is adapted from Charley Reeb’s blog about preaching at charleyreeb.com. His new book, That’ll Preach! 5 Simple Steps to Your Best Sermon Ever (Abingdon Press), comes out in 2017 and can be pre-ordered at Cokesbury and Amazon.