As a Pastor speaking effectively and winsomely is one of the most important parts of my job. Pastors fill all sorts of roles and wear any number of hats, but the opportunity to weekly stand before the people whom God has entrusted me to lead and present them with God’s Word for their lives is the greatest privilege I can imagine.
One of the most important leadership principles I’ve embraced over the last few years as it relates to preaching is to be continuously developing your greatest gifts. Marcus Buckingham and his team have done some great work that I’ve taken to heart demonstrating how we’re better off focusing on our strengths than our weaknesses. So for me that’s meant continuing to lean into developing as a preacher, an area of my ministry where it would be all too easy to rest on my laurels.
Here I should admit that I’m still just a J.V. preacher who’s only been preaching weekly for the last two years, though I’ve been speaking publicly long before then. But through the time I’ve spent in focused development on this gift over the last few years I’ve uncovered a few simple principles that anyone can embrace to make them a better communicator. So without further ado, here they are.
- Listen to Great Communicators
We live in an unbelievably blessed age when it comes to getting to listen to and learn from great communicators. From TED talks, to late night T.V., to thousands of sermons from unbelievably high-quality communicators just a click away, learning from others has truly never been easier.
That’s why the first piece of advice I’d give to any aspiring preacher would be to start listening to great communicators regularly. The key here is to listen to as wide a variety of communicators as possible. I’ve found inspiration for sermons from sources as diverse as Jimmy Fallon and John Piper.
To that end, one of the most important things you can do to become a better communicator is to not just listen to communicators that you agree with. For example, I personally couldn’t be more opposed to Joel Osteen’s “health and wealth” ministry, but I’ve still listened to a number of his messages. Why? Because he’s a brilliant communicator who has learned how to connect with people in a powerful way. I’ve learned a lot from watching Joel speak, and I never would have been able to do so if I’d shied away from him because I don’t agree with his message.
Work Relentlessly to Discover Your Voice
In this internet age where great messages on virtually any text or topic are just a click away it’s easier than ever to short-cut this step. But you’ll only cheat yourself if you do. To my preacher friends I would encourage you that one of the most important things for a young preacher to do is discover their voice. God doesn’t want you to be John Piper, or Andy Stanley, or Craig Groeschel, or Simon Sinek. He wants you to be you.
While it’s important to learn from the best it’s just as important to not mindlessly copy them?.
Early on in my ministry at Faith I made the mistake of listening to a sermon by John Piper on the text I was going to preach that Sunday fairly late in the week. It was so good that I scrapped everything I’d prepared and ended up more or less preaching his outline. It was as terrible sermon- possibly the worst I’ve ever preached. Why? Because I’m not John Piper. Don’t waste time pretending to be someone you’re not when you speak. Instead work relentlessly to discover your own voice, and watch God bless the results.
While speaking may appear to be a monologue, every truly great communicator has spent time throughout their week soliciting feedback through dialogue on their message. For example Craig Groeschel, one of the nation’s most prominent Pastors, asks a curated group of individuals for feedback after each of the services he teaches at. And he’s teaching at dozens of services over the course of any given Sermon Series!
There are any number of ways to solicit feedback on your speaking, both before and after. Recently I’ve begun to use Social Media to help me out with this. For example if I’m speaking on anxiety in lieu of trying to invent an example of what people tend to get anxious about I’ll use my Facebook page to start a discussion instead, asking something like “What things tend to make you anxious?”
Another way I ask for feedback on my speaking is through involving our staff at Faith in the sermon prep process. Before starting a topical Sermon Series at Faith I’ll first meet with our staff, share some of the direction the Lord is leading me for the series and ask for their thoughts. Those meetings often produce the BEST content of the series! Before any “major” service like Christmas or Easter I’ll ask the staff to listen through the sermon the week before and provide any feedback they may have to help improve it. Speakers, feedback matters. Don’t fail to seek it out!