Teach me to preach,” one of my new elders requested. A smile came across my face because his request tugged at my own love for preaching. To give him the joy I live each week would be incredible.
But the smile disappeared when I started to plan. How do you teach preaching?
I thought of my own excellent preaching teachers. Derek Morris used Haddon Robinson’s classic, Biblical Preaching. Jud Lake taught from Galli and Larson’s Preaching that Connects. But Biblical Preaching seemed too daunting for a lay preacher, and Preaching that Connects covered advanced skills better than basics.
I went to the shelf to pull out other preaching books I’d read but hit the same walls. Then it struck me. My sermon writing process is simple. If I could excuse myself from rehearsing all I had learned, I might have something to teach beginners. So, I began to condense preaching to its basic elements.
What to teach
What is preaching? Preaching is applying God’s Word to the lives of people. Learning to preach is like building a house—you need structure before details. The foundation and framework make the finished work possible. The student needs structure before they know where to put the details. So, what does that foundation look like? What does it take to apply God’s Word to people’s lives?
Most good sermons start with (1) a relevant life question, proceed to (2) a biblical answer, and end with (3) life application. The question is the reason to listen, the answer is the wisdom of God, and the application is the life change.
On these stones, I built a preaching class in my district. Twenty people showed up or asked for materials. That’s 10 percent of active membership. People wanted to learn. Could I teach them? Yes I could—by God’s grace.
How to teach
I found what to teach but lacked how to teach. This came through trial and error. Along the way, I found some shut doors and some keys to unlock them. I share with you three of these shut doors here, along with their keys, in the hope that you will become a better teacher of preachers.
Door #1—complexity and simplicity. The first shut door is the complexity of preaching. There is so much a preacher must do to master preaching. To get past this door, homiletics professors resort to a step-by-step “how to” approach that avoids theory. This is a grave mistake because it risks putting a ceiling on the preacher’s skills.
The key to unlocking this door of complexity is laying a simple foundation. With a good foundation, lay preachers can start changing lives long before they master the art. A solid foundation is also a base to build on as they expand their skills. You may wish to dig down to the foundation stones of your own preaching theory or use the stones I list above. Whatever you do, give your students enough theory to preach compelling, biblical sermons and enough room to grow in their own skin.
Door #2—schedule and flexibility. The second shut door is the student’s schedule. Capable people are busy people. A night class that meets ten times may exclude your best students. I held my first preaching class on a Sunday afternoon, and half my students were still unable to come. That was just the first session. If you held formal classes for several weeks, almost no one could make every class.
Instead, the key to unlocking this door is flexibility. A one-session class followed by one-on-one time with each student works well. The session should introduce the foundation stones and build camaraderie among the students. One effective way to illustrate the foundation stones is by choosing a text and walking the class through the whole process of sermon building. This can be done in one hour if you prepare well. As you later work with each student, give assignments that take them through the sermon-building process (the same process you use each week). Then, meet occasionally to check progress. Guide them to grow on their own schedule.
Door #3—jitters and trust. The third shut door is student jitters. Most people have done little more on stage than a prayer or Scripture reading.
The key to unlocking this door is instilling trust in God. My own experience has taught me that knowing I have a message from God emboldens me. God’s Word and God’s Spirit are the assurance of success. Talk up the power of God’s Word to stand on its own and share stories of times when God’s Spirit spoke through you in surprising ways. Help students see that success rests with God, not with them.
Besides the foundation and these keys, I have learned two principles that guide my mentoring of lay preachers. First, affirm more than you critique. After each sermon, suggest one area to improve and affirm four things done well. Second, encourage them to listen to other preachers regularly with an ear for learning new skills.
A teaching plan
In summary, as you prepare to teach budding preachers, six tasks lie before you. First, sift through your own preaching ministry to uncover the foundation stones of your sermon process. Second, conduct an introductory session during which you share and illustrate these foundation stones. Third, give and assess assignments for each phase of the sermon process (studying the text, outlining the message, writing an introduction, finding illustrations, making applications). Fourth, give constructive feedback after each student’s sermon. Fifth, share resources for continued growth. Sixth, continuously point them to God for strength and guidance.
Finally, remember that God has called you to equip others for ministry. He will bless your efforts.
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2. Galli, Mark, and Craig Brian Larson. Preaching that Connects. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.
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