Preaching Articles

I often have to answer the strangest question anyone could ask a preaching professor: “Do you think preaching can be taught?” I always want to respond, “No, I’m just going through the motions for the money.” Of course I never do, not only because it’s best not to say the smart aleck things I sometimes think, but because I know what they mean when they ask. It’s not really an unfair question.

No one denies that a preaching class and some coaching can help anyone become better. What we question is the possibility that someone with no natural giftedness and ability can be taught well enough that he can become really good.

For the last 16 years I’ve sat in a seminary classroom, listening to student sermons on an almost daily basis, and I’ve heard every kind of sermon and every level of preacher.

I’ve seen guys so nervous that they had to stop and vomit during the sermon, and I’ve been so moved by a student’s sermon that I felt I had been ushered into the presence of the risen Christ. I’ve seen guys who were no better the fifth time they preached for me than they were the first time, but I’ve seen guys whose initial sermon was depressingly awful turn it around so radically by the end of the semester that I almost couldn’t recognize them as the same preacher.

On the first day of the semester, or the first time I hear a student preach, I have no way of knowing if he has what it takes or is willing to do what he must to be the preacher he needs to be, but I can usually tell by the second sermon if he does, because that is when he has to act on what I told him after his first sermon.

What makes the difference?

1. Calling

The most frustrated preacher is the one who has a sense of duty, but not a burning calling.

Preaching is not just another helping profession, a Christian version of politics or the Peace Corps. The call to preach is a definite demand issued by the Holy Spirit that ignites a fire in one’s bones that cannot be extinguished by the hard-hearted, stiff-necked or dull of hearing.

A preacher who has been called must preach what God has spoken simply because God has spoken it. The success of one’s ministry will depend on the strength of his calling. His willingness to work at his preaching will be proportional to his conviction that God has called him to preach and to be as fit a vessel for God’s use as he can be.

The Holy Spirit must undergird everything else from preparation to delivery, and that will not happen apart from that calling.

2. Teachability

Being a preaching professor is like getting paid to tell a mother that her baby is ugly. It might be the truth, but it’s not a truth anyone wants to hear.

Most guys I have taught dread my comments and cringe when I tell them they missed the point of the text or seemed unprepared. They tire of hearing me tell them they lacked energy or failed to establish a connection with the audience.

Every now and then, however, someone smiles gratefully as I offer corrections and suggestions.

Someone may even say, “I want you to be really tough on me. Tell me everything I’m doing wrong, because I really want to do this well.” That guy is going to be fine, because his spirit is teachable and he’s willing to pay the cost of personal discomfort in order to be effective. He understands that he is a vessel in service of the text, and his feelings are not the point.

3. Passion

Almost all my students are passionate about Christ, about reaching the lost and about the Word of God. The problem is not that they don’t feel passionate, but rather that they do not show passion. What I feel is never the point, whether good or bad, but rather how I act.

If my delivery of the Word does not convey that passion, then my audience will not be moved to be passionate about it either. The prophets were all passionate. The apostles were passionate. Jesus was passionate. Why else would farmers, fishermen and housewives come and stand in the Galilean sun for hours just to hear Him?

I once heard a missionary preach at the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference. He was dynamite, preaching a great expository sermon with incredible energy and moving the entire audience by his treatment of the Word and his testimony of baptizing tens of thousands of Africans. Astonished by his great preaching, I approached him and held out my hand to introduce myself.

“Hershael,” he said, shocking me that he knew my name, “we went to seminary together.” Embarrassed, I admitted that I did not remember him. “You had no reason to,” he explained. “I was very quiet, never spoke in class and never went out of my way to meet anyone.” I asked him to explain what happened.

“When I got on the mission field, no one would listen to my preaching of the gospel. I was putting them to sleep. When I came stateside and preached in churches, they were bored to tears. Finally, I realized that the only way to be effective was to preach the Word in the way it deserved to be preached, so I became willing to go beyond my natural personality and comfort zone and allow God to make me effective. I prayed for the Word to so grip me in the pulpit that I would never be boring again.”

His teachability led him to show a passion that was not natural to his introverted personality. It was supernatural.

4. Reckless Abandon

The generation of students I now teach have grown up with the written word—on screens, smart phones, blogs, Kindles and now iPads. Through video games they have raced cars, built civilizations, won wars, destroyed zombies and killed hundreds.

They communicate orally far less than any previous generation, and when they do so, they typically do it with less passion. Yet God still uses the preaching of His Word—an oral event—to edify the church, encourage the saints and engage the lost.

So to preach the Word, a young man has to be willing to get completely out of the comfortable cocoon he’s built in his personality and habits, and recklessly abandon himself to risk being a fool for Christ.

I tell my students, “That little voice inside your head saying ‘That’s just not who I am’ is not your friend. Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit overcomes ‘who I am’ and shapes me into who He wants me to be. So if I need to preach with a reckless abandon that is foreign to my natural way, I will beg the Holy Spirit to help me do it for Christ.”

Pay the Price

Frankly, very few students I teach fail to get the meaning of the text. They often demonstrate an exegetical and hermeneutical sophistication that astounds me. They are serious about the Word.

But they make the mistake of thinking that if they just feel that way, and if they just say the words, the preaching will take care of itself. And if they keep thinking that, if they insist on “data dump” sermons that just concentrate on the content and not also on the delivery, there’s not much I can do for them. They will be the kind of preachers they want to be.

But if someone has a burning calling, a teachable spirit, a passionate heart and a reckless abandon to pay the price to preach well, then not even the limitation of their own background, personality or natural talents will keep them from preaching the Word of God with power.

Hershael W. York is the Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Preaching and Associate Dean in the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He also serves as Senior Pastor of the Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY, and co-wrote Preaching with Bold Assurance (Broadman and Holman, 2003) with communications expert Bert Decker, chairman and founder of Decker Communications. In addition to his writing, teaching, and pastoring ministries, he usually ventures deep in the Amazon at least once a year to fish for men and the elusive peacock bass.

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Julius Walls

commented on Jul 18, 2014

Thank you sooo much. I am a preacher who feels I need to move beyond my natural tendencies to communicate the Word of God with the passion and life it deserves.

Julius Walls

commented on Jul 18, 2014

Thank you sooo much. I am a preacher who feels I need to move beyond my natural tendencies to communicate the Word of God with the passion and life it deserves.

Minister Sanders

commented on Jul 18, 2014

Excellent article! These are great points that will improve areas in your preaching of God's Word! When we allow people to see we are passionate about the power and the truth in God's Word.....people will be passionate about receiving it and applying it into their lives! This article has helped me tremendously! Thank You and God Bless!!!!!

Douglas Hallman

commented on Jul 18, 2014

I appreciate the first point: preaching, the pastorate, vocational Christian ministry is a calling, not a chosen profession. I heard a man dispute that at his ordination council and said he was not called; that he did not beleive in a call. He lasted about 3 years in ministry and now does something else.

Darrell Nimmo

commented on Jul 18, 2014

Excellent article. We, who preach, must grow in our ability, passion, and skills to fully answer the call and wonderful privilege God has given us. Our effectiveness in doing so will produce not only greater results, but great joy in our hearts as well. "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands" 2 Tim. 1:6

Rw Van House

commented on Jul 18, 2014

I deeply appreciate what you are saying. I would include that the preacher not only knows his/her scriptures, calling, and a connection with the Holy Spirit, but know his/her people well enough to bring them all together with the preaching with the energy it all deserves.

Dale C

commented on Jul 18, 2014

Excellent! Thank you! If you ever get the chance, get the series of videos entitled, "Preaching by Ear". I want to be better, I want to be passionate about the Word.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Jul 19, 2014

A wonderful article...when it comes to passion, it gets generated when the good Lord places new insights in the preachers heart (Matt 13:52) in response to the latter's prayer seeking new insights (Psalm 119:18).

Mike English

commented on Jul 19, 2014

"The success of one?s ministry will depend on the strength of his calling." Could you please explain what you mean. My initial thought was that we are all called equally. Maybe we don't submit to that calling equally?

Will Potter

commented on Jul 19, 2014

Great article! We need more emphasis on the calling of God in the critical times we are living in. God is speaking loud and He needs called men of God to declare with boldness and clarity for these end times! God already has written the Word and the Holy Spirit will use those who prepare, sanctify and "STAND U" for the Lord!

Jonathan Mbuna

commented on Jul 19, 2014

The four things are very profound. Honestly preaching without callings its like driving a vehicle without fuel, and preaching without passion is a vehicle without battery, a preacher who is not willing to be taught is like a driver who does not want to follow the highway code and lastly a preacher without reckless abandon is like a vehicle without tyres. I just love the article its very inspiring and challenging.

Carl Adair

commented on Jul 19, 2014

Thank u so much for this article I really needed this. 1 question what can a preacher such as my self do that does have the means to go to any type of school due to money and time?

Lawrence Webb

commented on Sep 12, 2015

It's probably a year too late to offer this suggestion, but I have learned much late in my preaching life from books by Fred Craddock. He taught generations of preachers in seminary. His approach to preaching has inspired me deeply and made me more conscious of how to try to touch lives through preaching. Look on amazon for his books and his sermons.

Jillian Brown

commented on Jul 21, 2014

Great insight. I have sat under the pastorate of an individual who did not have the passion in his delivery and it became so unbearable my soul was dying. Jesus said "My Words they are Spirit and they are life." I am very thankful to now be in a church where our Pastor lives and speaks his message with great passion. The difference is amazing. Nobody likes to eat stale food or cold leftovers so why would we think it works differently spiritually speaking? Jeremiah said "It is like fire shut up in my bones." That is how real God's Word is to me and I cannot stand seeing someone treat it any less!

Jeff Warner

commented on Jul 21, 2014

Many helpful and thought provoking points. The idea of being open to the Holy Spirit to shape a personality whilst preaching seems obvious, yet is one I think many of us either miss of forget completely.

Joe Mckeever

commented on Sep 12, 2015

For good reasons sermoncentral brought this great article back from last year. I love everything about it, particularly the stories. Telling a mother her baby is ugly is the best metaphor I've heard yet for teaching preaching!!

John W Carlton

commented on Sep 12, 2015

Thank you for this article on preaching. I answered the call to ministry. My talents were in the music field and for 33 years this is where I served. In those 33 years, my pastor would call on me from time to time to fill the pulpit. It was late in life where I knew that God wanted me to not only direct the worship in music, but also preach His Word. After wrestling with this call on my life I surrendered to this calling, and at age 58 I was called to my first bivo church. i pastored there for over 6 years. It was a wonderful experience, and I would still be pastoring had it not been for a heart condition. Your points in this treatise are very well taken. I am saving it to go back to often. God did give me an extroverted personality, and I did sales work for many years. May God continue to bless your work as you train ministers for the future of the Church of our Lord.

Kwame Barffour Kyei

commented on Sep 16, 2015

Wonderful piece for those who preach for cash (pfc's). Many preachers of our days believe that they can get their daily bread just by preaching the Word of God. Yes they can but the points raised in this article makes the difference. May we be more energised by these four things for the preaching ministry. Rt. Rev. Kwame Barffour Kyei. Methodist Church Ghana, Oda Diocse

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