Record your sermons and lessons that you have taught and listen to them, and become your own worst critic. I listen to the sermons I preach and evaluate what my strengths and weaknesses are. I will often replay a section repeatedly as I try to figure out what doesn’t sound right to me. I listen for enunciation and speed to determine if I can be understood easily. I ask myself if I am boring and what I can do in my delivery to jazz up my preaching a bit. I want God to anoint my preaching and for Him to speak through me. I know that God amplifies our diligence in preparation and evaluation so I try to give Him plenty to amplify. I know that God blesses the humble, and listening to my sermon is one of the most humbling things I do.
Pray, pray, and pray some more. I read books written by the early church fathers, and the main emphasis they made on improving preaching is to pray a lot asking God to anoint, and to work in the lives and hearts of those listening. Many of them emphasized the need for the time spent in praying to equal the time spent studying. I pray for everyone in JBC every week. The ones who are in my leadership classes I pray for several times each week asking God to speak through me into their lives. In a couple of weeks when the Wednesday night service has been going long enough to make a list of regular attendees I will pray for each of them on Wednesday before the service. I am also in the process of making a list of people at Buena Vista Community Church where I am preaching on Sunday mornings. The more I pray the more God works in my preaching. Nothing communicates to God and ourselves that we can’t preach and teach the Word of God without His blessing and strength as much as prayer does.
On one particular Sunday morning I preached what I thought was the worst sermon that I had ever preached in my life. I was so disgusted with myself and embarrassed at my efforts that I wanted to slip out without talking to anyone. But I forced myself to walk out into the foyer to talk to people. The first person I talked to raved about my sermon. I thought they were just making up praise because they didn’t want me to feel bad because of the bomb I had just unloaded on them. But then another person said the same thing, and another, and another. I received more praise that morning for my sermon than I could ever remember receiving before. Patty and I have a deal to help eliminate conflict in our marriage, she doesn’t say anything negative or critical about my preaching for at least three days until I am less sensitive about it. But that morning on the drive home from church I mentioned what happened, and she agreed with me that it was the worst sermon I had ever preached. I asked her why I got so much positive feedback from people then, and she said, “That is easy, it left your mouth bad but God fixed it before it hit people’s ears.” I laughed out loud at her simple explanation, and thought, wow, prayer is powerful.
Tell good stories that illustrate the points being made in the sermon or talk. I work very hard at telling good stories. I am always thinking of every event in my life as a potential story. I read lots of short stories written by the best to learn the secrets of engaging storytelling. I have subscribed to several online classes on learning how to tell captivating stories. Over the years I have written and saved hundreds of stories so that I have them available to put into a sermon or lesson that I may teach. Good stories, that are well told have great power to hold people’s attention but poorly told stories are worse than no story at all.