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If you’re in full-time student ministry, there are a few things that are guaranteed. You will certainly gain weight if you try to keep up with the students during pizza eating contests. You will certainly get injured playing dodge-ball/table-tennis/and/or that sport-that-includes-more-than-one-hyphen. And finally, you will certainly preach and lead small group Bible studies on a regular basis, and eventually get asked to speak at another church, retreat weekend, camp, or (insert sport-with-more-than-one-hyphen)-night.
To make your night/weekend/kangaroo-boxing-championship-night a success, here are the five best things you can do as a preacher:
1. Consider your context:
This seems simple, but it’s important to remember. If you’re working at a Methodist church, it’s probably best to not preach a sermon titled “Why infant baptism is silly.” If you’re going to preach at an event primarily focused on senior citizens, you might want to avoid preaching on the power of teenagers to change the world. Make sure you know what you’re walking into when you agree to preach. Does the church or senior pastor have certain theological expectations? Are there any recent tragedies or dramas affecting the group you should aware of? What does the outside group you’re partnering with expect from you? This is also a great time to find out what’s been preached on before. If a sermon series was just preached on the topic you had planned, you may want to consider changing your topic or theme.
2. Plagiarise the Bible, not other Pastors.
I love Matt Chandler. I also love Judah Smith, and Mark Driscoll. Perry Noble is a blast to listen to. For some odd reason, I really truly enjoy podcasting a lot of my favorite preachers. It’s an ordinary part of what I do to focus my attention on Christ. I’m attracted to them because of the way they exegete the Word of God. Pastors, at best, are simply fantastic plagiarists. Sometimes though (and maybe this happens to you,) I start adapting parts of their speech patterns, stories, examples, and even points to fit my sermons because they sound really great. Maybe this has happened to you. I think this is especially easy for younger folks (like myself) to get drawn into. God however, wants to use YOUR voice! God doesn’t need you to become the next (insert speaker you really love). In the pulpit, you should be you. You have the ability to reach students that other preachers will never have the opportunity to reach. God placed you where you are, with your abilities, and with your specific voice to reach a specific group. Use your own voice. It’s far better to develop your talent through developing your own voice and not stealing from others.
3. Put the hours in.
You will preach how you practiced. When I get ready to preach, I spend hours in my room, praying, writing, and yelling whatever I’m writing out loud. Then I’ll preach it all the way through several times out loud. Maybe your mind works differently and you can pull fantastic sermons out of the air on the way to the pulpit, but for most of us, this isn’t true. We need to put the hours in, studying the Word, preaching it to ourselves, practicing illustrations, and hammering down points that make sense. Is there anything worse than the story that leads nowhere, or the illustration that looked cool but has no semblance of meaning or relevance to what the speaker is talking about? One way you can avoid horrible illustrations and points that don’t flow well together is to…..
4. Phone a friend.
No, seriously. Make it someone you trust. Make it someone who loves you enough to point out huge flaws GRACIOUSLY. Sometimes, reading illustrations, ideas, and even main points to a friend before preaching can save you lots of pain. If our sermons are really meant to point people to our Savior, isn’t it worth the awkward conversation of discussing whether your sermon makes sense? You’ll benefit from this, and so will your hearers. Learning to take constructive criticism is crucial to functioning better at any task in ministry, but especially preaching.
5. Rest in God’s speaking ability.
You can’t do this on your own. It’s impossible. Only the Holy Spirit can draw people to God. And thank God! When we rest in God’s ability instead of our own, we are free to gracefully make mistakes, learn, and trust in God’s sovereignty to change the hearts of people instead of our own ability. For some of you, speaking is one of the most terrifying events of the week, but in our limited ability, God can still speak with unlimited potential. He’s bigger than you. He’s got a better microphone than you. And thank God, he’s promised to build His church, regardless of you.
BONUS POINT: Flannel.
Why flannel? Flannel is the bonus point, because it’s incredibly difficult to sweat through, but it will also give you at least a few points with the hipsters. Can’t decide what to speak in? Rock the flannel. It’s always right.