I have been preaching and teaching for more than 15 years now. And there is nothing more exciting than being in front of thousands of people to share the good news and see a transformation happen right in front of your eyes.
Nothing like it.
However, I've also done sermons that have lasted way too long. Used jokes that offended good people. Preached using horrific theology, bad references, and little anointing. And I even spoke to a large crowd right after throwing up (as I walked up the stage).
That being said, here is some advice for all of you who are working on the craft of public speaking and hungry to reach more people with your voice:
1. Start from the back.
What do you want to see at the end? People encountering hope? Young ones coming to the Lord? Healing, signs, and wonders? The answer will drive your sermon and will keep you focused. Knowing how to end determines how I prepare. Because when I can see the end, then I can start crafting the message around that outcome.
2. Feedback, Feedback, Feedback.
The most necessary (and most annoying) component for growth. It takes humility to listen to what might feel like “criticism,” but if you endure the death of your pride, you might discover truths about yourself and your preaching that can seriously help your delivery. So be proactive in getting feedback. Go to your pastor and ask his advice. Talk to your spouse or parents about how approachable you seemed. Let your friends tell you what they learned, what they liked, what they found unnecessary.
Listen, adjust, and grow.
3. No need to impress people.
Rather, focus on loving them. Whenever I have looked at the crowd and thought about God's love for them, I felt my heart shifting from, “How can I look good?” to “How can I encourage them?” We are trained to look out for ourselves, but Jesus is all about everyone else. Let him teach you how to simplify your message, how to stick to grace, and how to share your pain and failures.
4. Put in the hours.
Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become world-class at anything. There is no school, no article, no training that can do more for your preaching than good, old hard work. It takes time to develop your skills. It takes years to improve the art of story-telling. It takes a lifetime to develop your life's message. But don't be discouraged, let the first-hour start today. Find a small group, a kid Sunday school teaching opening, a prison ministry that is looking for help, and start preaching!
5. Don't exaggerate the story.
Exaggerating is also known as embellishing the truth – a.k.a. taking license with reality a.k.a. lying. It’s one of the biggest temptations a preacher will face. But the truth is beautiful, daring, captivating enough. And it carries more power than any add-ons you can produce. (Read more in The 20 Biggest Mistakes I've Made As A Pastor.)
“Say it like it is, or don't say it at all.”
6. Feel uncomfortable.
It's usually after I leave my comfort zone when I hit my sweet spot. Sometimes, when I am being honest and feel exposed, people are grateful for my vulnerability and open their hearts too. Other times, when I feel like I'm being overly passionate, people get permission to be passionate themselves. And when I think I am being overly dramatic, people stay engaged and enjoy the experience.
Get out of your box, for the sake of everyone still in theirs.
7. Don't judge, just preach.
Keep your heart open to the discipline of the Holy Spirit. Be humble and take feedback. Stay hungry to learn and grow. But while you're preaching, don't worry about anything else but sharing Jesus and enjoying the moment. There will be time for review in the future. The moment is NOW to go for it! So while you teach, don't judge yourself, don't judge the crowd's reaction, just keep your eyes on the prize, and know that your heavenly Father is super proud of you!
8. Extra (Basic) Strategies:
– Find your three favorite preachers and observe. Then, ask yourself, “What do I love about them?” Get their books, their podcasts and resources. Imitate.
– Practice your most natural sermon in front of the mirror. No notes, no shame, just your passion and a stopwatch set to 20 minutes. Repeat.
– It's all about Jesus. He's the hero of the story. Greatest preacher ever. Start and end with him. Remember this.
– Take a class on public speaking, communication and/or preaching. Nothing like being intentional and investing in the craft. (I teach one at the School of Revival in Raleigh, NC, and it's one of my favorite things to do). Go.
Can I say it again? God is super proud of you, and you have been called to the nations. Be faithful in the little, and you will be given much!
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15