Eleven Ways to Maximize Your Preaching Potential
What can be done to minimize the chances of failing to connect with your preaching? Better yet, what can be done to maximize the possibilities for enriching people’s lives with your preaching? Here are 11 things to help you in your preaching ministry.
By T. Ray Rachels
All preachers have known the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Not sports events, but preaching.
Take this scenario, for example. There you are gripping the podium, white knuckled, a buzzing in your head, not able to think straight. You discover that what you had planned to say, worked hard to say, and believed you could say, is not coming through. Your mind, blessed instrument that it should be, is not processing the material for your tongue in the way you intended.
You talk, but the punch is missing. Your points are fuzzy; the story you thought was terrific is stale. For some unknown reason you cannot tell it right. You perspire.
You are thinking, If I can just get through these next few minutes, maybe I can slip out the back door before somebody catches me.
You pray for deliverance as you speak, but realize deliverance is not coming. Only the door will save you. Later you mournfully pull the sheets over your head and say as you whimper: “Please, just leave me alone for awhile.”
Does that scene remind you of anything personal? Probably so — at one time or another most of us have been there.
I have been on both the pulpit side and the pew side of that scenario. On the pew side, listening to some other poor soul struggling to get it said with great fervency; and then on the pulpit side, doing the same thing myself, praying for a quick, merciful end. When it happens to you, there is the fateful tendency to believe that it happens only to you. Other people are too smart, too articulate, too spiritual, and, too well loved by God to fail in this way. Besides, it is just proof of what you knew in your heart all along: you simply were not cut out for the ministry in the first place.
You hear the greats. They always soar. You hear the not-so greats. They seem to soar, too. You hear yourself. Where is the door?
When we are crashing on these perilous preaching shores, we react differently: Some don’t know they crash. Some don’t know, and don’t know that they don’t know. And some know and know that they know, and know that others know, too.
What can be done to minimize the chances of failing to connect with your preaching? Better yet, what can be done to maximize the possibilities for enriching people’s lives with your preaching?
Remember these 11 things:
1. The Person you are representing is the Lord, the Almighty God, the Ruler of heaven and earth.
If you were speaking on behalf of a secular industry giant, say IBM, you might better justify your feelings of failure. But whether in eloquence or in verbal despair, you are pointing people toward a God-filled eternity.
Your Christ-centered message carries in its bosom more dynamic possibilities than any lapse you may have. It is God’s Word, not yours. “ ‘I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.’ God’s Decree, ‘For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think. Just as rain and snow descend from the skies and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth, doing their work of making things grow and blossom, producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry, so will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed. They’ll do the work I sent them to do, they’ll complete the assignment I gave them. So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause. No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thornbushes, but stately pines — monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God’ ” (Isaiah 55:8–13, THE MESSAGE1).
2. The people to whom you are speaking are made of the same human cloth as you.
We may feel that our own humanity is somehow different from someone else’s. Not so.
God has put the essential qualities that are inherent in you into others as well. The differences are in outlook and perspective. And you can thank God for that.
This means that you can bring your own fresh perspective to an audience who will understand, no doubt, the points you are making about the human condition and thus the felt needs of a human soul.
3. There is almost always a genuine openness by everyone to listen to your words.
Basic goodness exists in people who are there to hear you preach. Believe that. Any supposed predisposition against you and/or your message is usually only in your mind, not theirs.
Trust the fact people have come to hear you. They could have gone somewhere else or nowhere at all, but didn’t.
They are there before you, sitting, waiting, hungry to hear that you have a word from the Lord. This is God’s call on you as the preacher. Get in touch with His Word for the people, give it in the most compelling way you can, and leave the results to Him.
4. You cut down your failure potential greatly when you diligently prepare before you speak.
Having something good and compelling to say is predicated on reading as widely as possible, thinking through your text for its accompanying meaning and points, and allowing time for the material to take shape in your mind and percolate in your soul.
When you are well prepared and your mind and heart are full of information, it’s much easier for your faltering tongue to tap into that reservoir on quick notice than it is if only a hollow spot is there.
Having something to say always presupposes exactly that; that you have something to say.
Pastor W.A. Criswell challenged an audience of preachers: “You can’t live on skim milk all week and preach cream on Sunday.”
5. You will live (yes, you will) to preach again. And next time you can redeem yourself.
Preachers who have a sermon collapse can, after their head has cleared of those noises of failure, come back that evening or the next week and renew their confidence by preaching a message that does not collapse. People appreciate seeing a good pastor rebound.
No failure is final. God believes in you. Believe in yourself.
6. People love you as much for what they know you to be as for what you say.
The ministry is more than the pulpit. It is loving and caring for the needs of people. It is wisely counseling people toward wholeness. It is a smile, a touch, and an honest heart at work daily among the people. It is being there when people are hurting and when they are happy.
Don’t forget that you are that kind of pastor. Your people will remember that your lifestyle of humility, sacrifice, and servanthood means more to them than the possibility, or the fact, you misfire once in a while in your preaching. Forgiveness for a caring pastor is virtually instantaneous.
7. The possibility exists that your message wasn’t as bad as you thought.
We are our own worst critics. This is not a bad thing because it drives us toward being the best we can be. But do not let your personal demands for perfection force you to an unhealthy sense of loss.
You may not have preached a world-class message; but, if you spoke the truth, gave it in humility, and had the backing of prayer, chances are it hit some part of the target, if not the bull’s-eye.
8. When you have done your best, even though your best seemed trivial, it may be all that was possible for this time.
Nobody wants to fail. To preach poorly is the last thing on your mind. You may not have prepared as well this week as at other times; your mind may not have been as clear as last week or as it will be next week; but for this message, at this time, under these circumstances, what you preached was your best effort. Console yourself in that.
9. Prayer offered in Jesus’ name and for His kingdom’s sake will break the stronghold of oppression that may be the result of the disempowering you feel.
God’s announced joy and pleasure is in freeing people who are held captive by the Prince of darkness. “Set free” is a wonderful biblical truth.“So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through” (John 8:36, THE MESSAGE).
Paul’s words in Romans 7:24,25 are appropriate for every person who is at the end of their rope, spiritually: “I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? … The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind” (THE MESSAGE).
Look to God’s strength to break whatever spiritual bondage may be present. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).
You have sought to enthrone Jesus Christ with your message. Satan will always try to condemn and complicate that effort.
Believe the words,“The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world”(1 John 4:4).
10. Take seriously the preaching event every time.
Acts 4 describes Peter and John before the high priests, in jail, being questioned, and then threatened with physical violence. Through it all these first New Testament preachers held firm, knew who they were, and knew God was on their side.
“ ‘We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ …On their release … they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord … you made the heavens and earth and the sea and everything in them. … Now, Lord, … enable your servants to speak your word with boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus’ ” (Acts 4:20–30).
That is a prayer to take to every pulpit on every occasion for every one of us.
11. Your real self-esteem is not tied to your sermon, but rather to the deeper message of God’s love and care for you as His child.
Often when we fail to present ourselves effectively, we feel that our worth as a person is diminished. We perform poorly and thus our self-worth is tarnished.
God’s acceptance of us does not depend on how brilliantly we preach. His measure of success follows another, far more exacting, standard. The basic question is: “Are the qualities of His grace visible and at work in me?”
“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously” (Micah 6:8, THE MESSAGE).
The Word of God is the great equalizer for all God’s servants. The ground is level here and we each walk under the same judgment. What a liberating confidence.
May God make you mighty in the pulpit, but also in the other arenas of life where He calls you to be His faithful servant.
T. Ray Rachels, former superintendent, Southern California District of the Assemblies of God, Irvine, California
1. Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.