Try these simple steps to evaluate—and elevate—your preaching.
Here’s something fun: Ask your child, wife, staff member, deacon, elder, small group teacher: “What did I speak on three weeks ago?—Two weeks ago?—This past weekend?” Ouch! Maybe that isn’t so fun. Why do their answers sting so much? Because, as communicators, we desperately want to reach the people that we’re speaking to.
How can we improve in the art and science of communication?
Study the best communicators.
Study the Master. How did Christ communicate (mustard seed, vine, and branches, children, wind, Living Water, seeds, a plank in your eye, etc.).
Study people in Scripture. Check out leaders in both the Old and New Testaments. Study Peter and Paul. Look at Acts 17. How did Paul communicate differently in verses 16-32 than he did at the beginning of the chapter?
Study present-day communicators. Who are your favorite speakers? What do you like about them? How do they capture your mind and your heart?
Practice the disciplines of your craft.
Creativity. Consider all that our Creator made; the many different species, colors, people, etc. Let him inspire you to use every ounce of your talent and imagination in crafting messages. Michael Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg Church said, “Electronic media are the language of our culture. Our strategies for designing worship must be visually engaging.”
Learning. Study how to learn, and be a continual learner yourself. We should all be constant students of God, his creation, his Word, the people he died for, the culture we find ourselves in and how to communicate effectively. Stretch yourself. Read constantly.
Risk-Taking. Great communicators take risks. Risk and faith go hand in hand. When we stand up to preach, do we rely more on our experience and education or the Holy Spirit? When Rob Bell was the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, the entire first year of their church, Rob preached on the book of Leviticus—and the church grew from zero to 3,000 members. Talk about risk-taking! Like him or not, Rob Bell is a phenomenal communicator.
Be intentional and employ the following:
Storytelling. Paint a picture with your words. Never forget the power of the imagination. Everything doesn’t have to be on the screen. Dan Kimball said, “Because people in the emerging culture don’t know the story, preachers must become storytellers again.”
The Arts. Praise God. the arts are coming back to the church! For so long, you had a place to serve in our churches if you taught, sang, or played the piano or organ. Now, everyone is (or should be) welcome to use their gifts and talents for the glory of God whether they are a “techie,” painter, dancer, poet, sculptor, seamstress, designer, video producer, actor, etc. Find the artists in your church and allow them to partner with you in communicating the gospel.
Shift from auditory only to multisensory worship. One doesn’t have to research too long to see that most people learn today through other means than hearing. Leonard Sweet’s book Postmodern Pilgrims laid out in detail his EPIC concept. Len Sweet suggests (and I agree) that our worship services and sermons should be Experiential, Participatory, Image-based, and Connective. Sweet says, “When you have a choice to make about how to deliver a particular element of your worship service, push the bounds—make it dynamic, relational and most of all, make it visual.”
Never lose your focus.
You must shift from information to transformation. Preaching in the modern church focused on a logical presentation of facts to move people toward a decision. Now you need to move beyond words and be interactive and engaging. Our worship gatherings should not be a social or academic meeting of people “coming to church” and learning.
The goal is changed lives. Our worship gatherings should be a spiritual, authentic, life-changing encounter for God’s people connecting with each other and their Creator by experiencing his presence in worship and confronting truth expressed through his Word and understood through his Spirit in an atmosphere of love, grace, peace and joy.
Rely on his strength. With the reality that it’s not about us and that God knows whom we are trying to reach and how best to communicate to them, the obvious comes back to the forefront: Prayer is the key to all, the lifeline from which we “live, move, and have our being.”
l’ll close with five thoughts:
1. You can’t do it alone. If you haven’t already, put together a creative planning team and work with them on your message and series planning.
2. Evaluation. The only way to truly grow and improve as a communicator is to constantly evaluate your teaching. Suggestions for this are:
Video yourself teaching
Listen to just an audio recording of yourself teaching
Ask others to evaluate your teaching.
3. Remember: all our media are simply tools. Our responsibility as leaders are to help people stay focused on Jesus, not the experience itself. If they leave our churches saying, “What a cool video” or “What a great sermon” instead of “What an awesome God!” we’ve missed the boat.
4. Watch and listen to other communicators. Great teachers study other great communicators. I get to see and hear from Steven Furtick almost weekly. I know he watches other communicators and has truly mastered the art of communication. I listen to Matt Chandler and others via podcasts. Each time I listen to Chandler, I am amazed at how he captures the ears and hearts of the listener. Both Furtick and Chandler weave humor into their messages. Never underestimate the power of humor and laughter. Who do you resonate with and learn from? We can all grow in this area.
5. Please don’t forget the power of imagination. Read this article I wrote last year on tapping into this powerful gift from our Creator God.
If I had to summarize my heart on preaching, I would say to work at your craft and put the time and effort into improving as a communicator. I believe in you. You can do it. Keep pressing on!
Greg Atkinson is a leadership coach and guest-services consultant with more than two decades of ministry experience. Check out his blog: GregAtkinson.com.