‘Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needed not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth’ KJV (2 Timothy 2:15)
Pastors today are asking, what are the qualities of a ‘real preacher’? Actually the question should be ‘what are the qualities of an effective preacher?’ So let me share with you today, the 10 qualities that transform an ordinary speaker into a effective preacher.
1. Walk your talk
Robin Sharma, motivational speaker and the author of ‘The Greatness Guide’ says ‘Your video must be in alignment with your audio…’ As the preachers of God’s word it is important that we do what we preach. There is an English saying, ‘Your actions are so loud that I can’t hear what you say’
People will forget what you preach, but they will never forget what you do. If your congregation finds out that your life style falls short of what you preach, they will never want listen to you again. A preacher without character is like a drum. It makes a big noise but in the inside it’s empty. Character is what you do when no one is watching you.
Don’t preach something that you don’t do yourself in the first place. How can you become an effective preacher if no one listens? Don’t distribute pages from the Bible, rather let the message to speak to your heart in advance. Then it to your others.
2. Take time to prepare
My homiletics teacher in my first day at the class told me ‘Spend one hour in study for every minute you are going to spend behind the pulpit’
The typical believer who attends a Sunday service is a physically and mentally exhausted person. He had been working for 5 days a week (may be even 6 or 7) in the secular world, before coming into God’s presence to renew their spirit through worship and God’s word.
You must prepare your self intellectually (have your sermon notes ready on time) and spiritually (what about your relationship with God and others?) before you can preach to such a crowd without disappointing them. All the pastors all have to discharge a load of responsibilities including visitation, counseling and handling daily church matters etc. and finding time for preparation could be difficult. However the key is to set our priorities right. The effective management professional is a person who knows to put his priorities in the right order. So is the effective Preacher. Remember you cannot fool your congregation. The moment you start preaching they can guess whether you are prepared or not. You can read more about preparation here.
3. Own preaching style
‘There can’t be two you’ (Warren Buffett, Chairman of Berkshire, Hathaway) I always learn from my senior pastor when he preaches, but it really annoys me when people say ‘Yohan is just like the senior Pastor when he preaches!’ Most of the amateur and young Pastors have a tendency to imitate other reputed preachers. Not only do you fail as a preacher but you simply insult the Creator when you imitate others instead of being yourself. You can’t ask the Holy Spirit to use you and then be some one else.
People may not respond to your style in the beginning, but as time goes by people will respect and listen to you for who you, (given that they can count on your character). I am not saying that you shouldn’t learn from others, but don’t be them.
4. Meet felt needs
In Sri Lanka there are more than five different mobile phone service providers. However only two companies are on top. The secret is they meet people’s communication needs. Others advertise big, but do not deliver.
This principle is true for preachers also. To preach is not to advertise big and offer little or even nothing. Maybe there is a teenager in your congregation who is fleeing from home and he needs to be confronted. There could be someone who needs healing. This is called ‘the felt need’. A felt need is a critical need. If you intend to be aware of peoples’ needs it is important that you are spiritually prepared, so that the Holy Spirit can guide you.
6. Preach the truth
I have heard even the most theologically qualified and experienced pastors preaching poor quality sermons. Some preach faulty doctrines. A good preacher interprets scripture correctly. He uses hermeneutical principles to interpret the Word.
Dr. John O. Wood says, ‘the condition of the Pastor’s Library says a lot about the condition of the church’. Use at least one solid commentary when preparing your sermon. Remember, God has called you to nurture the souls of those he has entrusted in your care.
Never twist God’s Word to support what you want to say (isogesis). Always let the scripture to speak for itself, and expound what the original author intended to say (exegesis). In other words bring ‘then and there’ to ‘now and here’.
6. Exalt Christ only
Dr. John Stott, once said this. ‘People who seek to flatter a preacher and the preacher who expects people to praise him are equally guilty before God.’
Don’t be a crowd pleaser. The pulpit is not a place for you to boast about your academic and professional qualifications (Like many Pastors do). I have heard some Pastors using inappropriate illustrations even. Some of us use the pulpit to fire spiritual bullets at people in the church that don’t agree with us.
Remember, you are God’s representative and you should only say what God wants his people to hear. Don’t try to play God.
7. Keep learning
One day I was interpreting for an English Preacher, and was shocked when he said he doesn’t read newspapers, watch news or listen to the radio or read any books other than the Bible. He categorized them as unspiritual. How on earth can you address the modern issues that bother your congregation if you do not know what’s happening in the world?
For example, personally I don’t enjoy cricket. But most of the people in our congregation do. Therefore I keep myself up to date with basic details about current tournaments. In preaching it doesn’t hurt to use contemporary events as illustrations. People respond to your message best when you relate to their interests and familiar areas of life.
8. Communicate Clearly
Ask yourself, ‘Can a 10 year old understand my sermon?” Did you know the each person in your audience has got filters and your message travels through them before it actually lands on them. These filter include culture, social level, education, age and personal attitude. You definitely cannot deal with everything in a single sermon, but certainly you can consider most of these filters during preparation.
Let me tell you a story. A general rule of thumb to follow when preaching is to maintain eye contact with the congregation while presenting the sermon. One day a lady pastor was preaching to a group of tribal people. Before long the women in the crowd seemed to feel angry at our preacher while the men seemed amused. When she preached she maintained eye contact with everyone in the group regardless of their gender. In that tribal culture, a woman looking straight into a man’s eyes was an invitation to have sexual intercourse with her. She was preaching God’s word, but something else was running through the minds of men in her audience.
Appropriate illustrations also help communication more easier. You need to be careful however because using the wrong illustration to represent the wrong truth will confuse the listener.
9. Apply the message
Any sermon is made up of 3 parts. Namely the introduction, body (message) and application. Now the application plays a vital role in your sermon and no matter how good the rest of your sermon was but a poor application always makes your sermon useless.
Once Dr. Arnold Lastinger shared with us a true incident in his homiletics class to give an idea on the importance of proper conclusion.
‘Couple of years ago I enrolled in a flying school to learn how to fly small aircrafts. One day I was watching a pilot taking his aircraft up and flying a number of rounds and preparing for the landing. Everything was perfect except for the landing. The results were devastating. The aircraft crashed and blasted into a ball of fire. Needless to say the pilot didn’t survive. What a tragedy it was.’
A good preacher will always draw practical applications out of his sermon. Without it your congregation will be left behind wondering what are they supposed to do with your message. If the message was confronting, without an application they will simply feel judged and condemned.
10. Keep practicing
Some one said ‘You can not become a great preacher overnight. You need to master it and it takes practice’.
One day a woman spotted Pablo Picasso in the market and pulled out a piece of paper. ‘Mr. Picasso’, she said excitedly, ‘I am a big fan of you. Please, could you do a little drawing for me?’ Picasso happily compiled and quickly etched out a piece of art for her on the paper provided. He smiled as he handed it back to her, and said, ‘That will be a million dollars.’ ‘But Mr. Picasso,’ the flustered woman replied, it only took you 30 seconds to do this little masterpiece.’ ‘My good woman’, Picasso laughed, ‘it took me 30 years to do that masterpiece in 30 seconds.’
I remember a critique telling me ‘You are such poor preacher that people fall a sleep when you preach’. I was not discouraged by his words. I took it for a challenge instead. I have improved a lot, but I still keep practicing.
1. Dr. Lednicky H. Maurice, The Scriptures Applied, Morris Publishing, USA, 1999
2. Sharma Robin, The Greatness Guide, Harper Collins Publishers, USA, 2006
3. Dr. Wood O. George, Core Values, Gospel Publishing House, Missouri, 2007