By Rob Hurtgen
When the Lord called me into vocational ministry, I didn’t believe He was calling me primarily as a preacher. I assumed there’d be occasions I’d preach before a congregation, but I thought those opportunities would be few and far between.
Armed with the belief that the Lord was calling me to a role that wouldn’t involve regularly opening His word to His people, I didn’t seek out training to know how to do so.
My first sermon reflected my ineptitude. Thankfully that little church in Indiana didn’t have a tape ministry. Little did I know that in my journey of answering the Lord’s calling, He’d move me toward a preaching ministry.
While I was the beneficiary of one formal preaching course, my preparation to preach has emerged through reading, observing, and trial and error. Along the way, I’ve identified five habits that’ve helped me in the preaching process.
While I could elaborate on each of the following practices, and certainly none are original, they provide a big-picture strategy that’s helped frame and develop my preaching ministry.
1. Maintain intimacy with the Lord.
I believe that when one confesses Christ, they immediately receive and are sealed in the Holy Spirit. At no point in a believer’s life are they not filled with the Holy Spirit.
However, just as all relationships can grow stagnant and distanced without regular and intentional acts to foster them, so too, the intimacy with the Lord can dwindle. When this happens, preachers then succumb to proclaiming the Lord they don’t really know.
Psalm 73:28 reads, “But as for me, God’s presence is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all you do.” The psalmist declares that telling about the Lord flows from His presence.
The preacher’s primary task is to expound the text. Yet exposition absent of intimacy is akin to describing a vacation you read about in a magazine. The step of first importance is to maintain your intimacy with the Lord.
2. Practice solid hermeneutics.
Hermeneutics is the science of exegeting and interpreting the Scriptures. Read the passage out loud and in multiple translations. Write out everything you observe in the text, digging into the context, defining keywords, and examining some critical and pastoral commentaries.
Understand what the text says and what it means before asking, “What should we do?” Biblical preaching means thoroughly examining the text.
3. Write the sermon.
I gravitate between writing out each sermon in a manuscript form and a modified outline. The purpose of writing the sermon is to create organization, clarity, and application of the text through your message.
The critical question to address in writing the sermon is, “What’s the central theme, the one matter of most importance, that’s paramount in this message from this text?”
Writing out the message with a clear central theme is incredibly valuable to communicating the mystery of Christ.
4. Practice your delivery.
Of these five habits of preaching, the routine I’ve been most resistant to is practicing delivering the sermon. I’ve assumed that writing prepares the mind, which will then be able to engage the mouth.
Yet the habit of practicing the sermon’s delivery out loud has created greater clarity, removed the unnecessary fluff, and enabled more familiarity with the message. Familiarity with the message creates a more natural feeling during the proclamation of it (especially if you write a manuscript).
Sometimes sermon rehearsal occurs in my office; at other times, it’s from the pulpit to an empty sanctuary. The habit I’ve been most resistant to has become one of the best routines to help me declare the mystery of Christ.
Develop your own set of metrics and regularly, with grace, evaluate the sermon. Ask yourself:
- Was I clear?
- Did I point to the cross?
- If I removed all references to the Lord, would it still have been a good message? (If so, I didn’t preach the gospel.)
Cautiously seek the input of others. The observations of others can be incredibly helpful. But a word of caution: the input of others can also be addicting and damaging to your soul. Select those whose wounds bring healing.
Also, listen to some of your messages. In particular, listen to that message you felt like you struggled through.
Look for where you needed to be more precise than you were. Listen to what worked and what didn’t. You may also find that the message wasn’t as awkward as you thought it to be. Listening can help create clarity.
I’m presenting these sermon habits in broad terms. Each one of these habits can be fleshed out further. In this season, the Lord has put fire in my heart and burning in my bones for the pulpit ministry (Jeremiah 20:9).
Though I’ve much to learn, I want to do the best I can with the time He’s given me. I’m committed to doing the hard work of getting better in the preaching ministry.
I’m also reminded that if the Lord can speak through a donkey, He can certainly use someone like me for His purposes, His glory, and my good (Numbers 22:8).