Practice does not, as we know, make perfect, necessarily. But practice does make one better.
Preaching is no different than any other discipline in this regard. It is hard to be a young preacher. You read off your manuscript too much; you try to go off it and end up somewhere you didn’t mean to go; you preach way too long and observe the congregation yawning; you go too short and leave everyone a bit shocked by your brevity. What young preacher hasn’t committed these mistakes, and many more besides?
That’s why it is essential that young preachers do two things: 1) get lots of practice, and 2) get lots of feedback from skilled, faithful preachers. When I refer to lots of practice, though, don’t assume that I mean lots of practice preaching on Sunday mornings. You may get that, and if so, terrific. But most of us won’t. My advice is to find a venue that calls for you to put together messages on a regular basis. For me, the local FCA groups have afforded me a steady stream of “preaching” opportunities. Roughly 10-15 times per semester, I’ll travel to some school at 7am in the morning and speak to a bunch of youth for about 15 minutes. In these times, I try to speak off of the top of my head from a passage of Scripture while communicating the point of a given passage and the way in which the passage points to Christ. It’s pretty simple, really. Having this chance to speak publicly, though the setting is of course not a Sunday morning pulpit, has nonetheless made much more comfortable when I do have real preaching opportunities.
So my advice to my fellow young preachers is this: get out there. Use some initiative and find a place to preach or speak or teach. It doesn’t need to be prominent, it doesn’t need to be salaried, but it does need to be regular. Solicit feedback wherever possible and assess your strengths and weaknesses as a preacher. Work hard to become an organized, winsome, engaging communicator. Then, when you have a pulpit to fill, you will have already achieved a level of polish and comfort that will serve you well. Too many of us think it’s either a full-time ministry job or nothing. With your desire to advance the gospel, push yourself past malaise, past fear, and past your weaknesses to grow as a preacher of the Word of God. Practice may not make perfect, remember, but it will make better.