You can tell from recent posts that my time with Masters students at Carson-Newman College has been very stimulating. On the last day, one of them asked me a question: ' If I am a four-star preacher and I would love to be a six or seven star preacher, how can I improve? Should I spend more time in my bible work, or concentrate more on how to interpret with application, or focus on learning more skills in delivery (like preaching without notes), or try to integrate my preaching with the rest of my pastoring more, or something else?' He said the background to this query came from a conference he attended with John Maxwell speaking on leadership, when the same question was made asked about leadership. If you are below average -4 star - how can you develop to be above average?
I like the idea of seeking to improve. I don't believe that any communicator ever ceases to need improvement! None of us have perfected being an ambassador of Christ! However, answering this question is complex isn't it? For a start, preaching is a calling and gifting that depends on God's empowering and the first priority is to stay close and dependent on him and his word. My character makes a huge difference to my effectiveness (ethos). No amount of technique and hard work can make up for abiding in Christ and growing in Christlikeness. Yet, all preachers need to be challenged about those areas in the preaching process where we have developed bad habits or just grown lazy. The particular student who asked this question confessed he had been preaching for twenty years in exactly the same way each week!
The short answer to his question is that those of us who dare to speak for God and his reconciling work (2 Cor. 5:20) need to keep checking on all those aspects he raised. Worn habits and (let's admit it, yes,) laziness can dull the flame. And, let's keep working at integrating preaching with the widest possible pastoral responsibilities which, as Leslie reminded us in the last post, include the apostolic, prophetic and evangelistic. Sermons should not be trapped in devotional boxes but part and parcel of flesh-and-blood daily kingdom living. Real words from God's word for real living!