Preaching Better — Practice and Exercises

Those of us who get to preach have probably taken some classes on preaching, and read some books, and some of us have attended preaching conferences where we can talk to other preachers and hone the art. I have preacher friends who go over one another’s sermons as a group and others who prepare sermons together. But it is probably fair to say that most of us could improve. But how? There is very little like those seminary preaching classes when an expert listens and then works through your sermons enough to make you feel uncomfortable, but grateful, and glad that is now past… but what can we do to get better.

There is also nothing like the thrill of listening to great preachers — and my favorites over the years have been John Stott, Howard Sugden, Mike Cope, Randy Harris, and Tom Long — for they model what can be done. But often I think to myself, “That’s Tom Long or Randy Harris and I’m not Tom or Randy.” So what can we do to get better?

Daniel Overdorf’s One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills might be the place to start. I got this one in the mail from the publisher, wandered into it and, quite honestly, couldn’t put it down. It is so useful and practical and is the result of years and years of preaching and actually learning how to practice each of these 52 exercises.

52 is a lot, so you take one a week and work on that week’s sermon with that exercise. Of course with interruptions in schedules it make two or three years to go through them all, but each one of these lessons is of use to each of us.

It takes humility to do this — it’s not like starting over but there is a subtle reminder that there is room for improvement, and it’s basic to fill in some of these exercises, but as I read through them I said, “I can benefit from this.” I’m grateful to Jay Greener and Amanda Holm Rosengren that they let me preach at Church of the Redeemer now and then. (Like yesterday.) We use the lectionary, which means I don’t get to choose my favorite text — but yesterday’s was from the Sermon on the Mount (maybe that’s why they asked me!). Back to Overdorf’s exercises.

What are the exercises? Here they are: I stole them from Kregel’s site.

OK, preachers, which of these was one of the most valuable to you?

I was helped immensely at times by #6, 28… how about you?

1. Commission a Sermon Prayer Group…………………15
2. Balance Your Biblical Diet ……………………………….21
3. Speak to Three Listening Styles ………………………..27
4. Remember the Fundamentals …………………………..33
5. Seek Illustrations at Home ………………………………39
6. Show, Don’t Tell …………………………………………….43
7. Read the Text Well …………………………………………49
8. Have Listeners Evaluate You ……………………………55
9. Listen to a Storyteller ……………………………………..61
10. Tell a Story ……………………………………………………67
11. People Watch …………………………………………………73
12. Polish Your Thesis ………………………………………….77
13. Utilize the Five Senses ……………………………………..83
14. Exegete Before Sermonizing……………………………..89
15. Develop Need in the Introduction …………………….95
16. Assemble a Feed-Forward Group ……………………101
17. Write in E-Prime …………………………………………..107
18. Plan for Effective Delivery ……………………………..113
19. Collaborate With Other Preachers …………………..119
20. Apply Specifically …………………………………………125
21. Preach with Women in Mind ………………………….131
22. Pray for Your Listeners ………………………………….137
23. Assemble a Feedback Group ………………………….141
24. Minimize Notes ……………………………………………147
25. Talk to an Artist …………………………………………..153
26. Try a Different Sermon Form …………………………159
27. Explore the Original Context …………………………167
28. Hang the Sermon on an Image ……………………….173
29. Expand Your Multicultural Awareness …………….179
30. Design Careful Transitions ……..

31. Encourage Texting During Your Sermon ………….191

32. Assign Biographies to Children ………………………197
33. Craft Evocative Words…………………………………..201
34. Consider the Text’s Literary Form …………………..207
35. Include Immediate Application ……………………….215
36. Teach Preaching to High Schoolers ………………….221
37. Analyze a Movie ………………………………………….227
38. Swap Pulpits ………………………………………………..235
39. Illustrate with Video ……………………………………..239
40. Conduct E-Interviews ……………………………………245
41. Go to Work with a Church Member ………………..251
42. Employ Purposeful Humor …………………………….255
43. Preach in Dialogue ……………………………………….261
44. Pray Through Your Sermon ……………………………265
45. Make a Bee-Line to the Cross …………………………269
46. Illustrate Specifically ……………………………………..275
47. Land Smoothly in the Conclusion …………………..281
48. Interweave Preaching and Worship ………………….287
49. Write for the Ear ………………………………………….293
50. Preach with Men in Mind ……………………………..299
51. Read Fiction ………………………………………………..305
52. Critique a Video of Yourself …………………………..3

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.