Great preachers are not well-rounded communicators.
Last week, Thabiti Anyabwile pointed out that Charles Spurgeon’s method of taking every message to the cross was flawed. Because of Spurgeon’s popularity (I do chuckle when men with Spurgeon bobblehead dolls rail against celebrity pastors), Thabiti’s post attracted a lot of attention.
But the most significant lesson for those of us who preach, teach and communicate to groups of people got tossed to the side.
If you read the article, I wonder if you picked up on it. If you didn’t read it, let me save you a few minutes.
Quit trying to be well-rounded.
That’s the most practical, actionable takeaway from Spurgeon’s legacy.
Think of the preachers in your tribe who have the largest platforms. Every single one of them has something that stands out in their preaching.
Their fidelity to the biblical text.
Their creative storytelling that brings the text to life.
Their insight into culture or the human heart.
Their ability to call people to take clear steps towards faith and obedience.
Now, what does this mean for you?
I'm not talking about building your platform. It’s about finding your voice.
I’m not interested in debating the merits of particular philosophies of preaching. I want to help you be the best preacher you possibly can be.
And what I’m finding is that most preachers are going about the task of self-improvement the wrong way.
A Better Way To Get Better
I am a performance coach. I create customizable solutions for leaders in different areas of their life and leadership, including preaching.
Last week, I had a conversation about preaching with several clients who feel like a hamster on a wheel. They are working hard at the task of communication, but they don’t feel like they are going anywhere. They are completely committed to improvement and can tell me what they have tried to do to get better.
Based on what I knew about each of them, I quickly picked up on a common theme.
Their efforts at improving themselves were focused exclusively on an aspect of preaching they aren’t very good at - working with original languages, illustrating their main point clearly and succinctly, improving their eye contact.
Now all of those are critical components of effective preaching. You can’t be a faithful preacher without implementing all three in your preparation and delivery.
But those areas of struggle will never be a strength. So I proposed a different path.
I asked each of them to list out the ten critical skills they needed to have to be an effective preacher. Their lists had a lot in common, from the preparation process to the importance of introductions to the challenge of calling people to a clear next step.
Do you have a list of 10 skills? Do you know what it takes to be a faithful, effective preacher or teacher?
If I had to guess, you can look at your list and identify 2-3 skills that are uncommon strengths for you as a communicator. And the rest are either elements that you struggle with or just don’t gravitate towards.
When I asked my clients to identify 2-3 strengths, each of them was able to do so rather quickly. And they agreed that the rest of the list represented real challenges or places of relative indifference.
Because their unique impact as a preacher is the result of the things that they do well. Their strengths produce their value as a communicator.
There’s a principle that says that 80% of your value is the result of 20% of your effort. Translated, that means that your 2-3 strengths as a preacher are far and away the reason people are willing to listen to you.
Don’t believe me?
Think back to Spurgeon and the ‘high-capacity’ preachers who end up on the main stage of your favorite conference. Why do so many people want to listen to them? Because they play to their strengths.
Play To Your Strengths
What if you reimagine your development as a preacher or teacher?
Instead of trying to excel at every skill associated with effective communication, spend most of your time honing your strengths.
If you're a genius at studying a text and crafting a captivating story, focus on better study methods or learning to tell stories without using any notes.
If you give good practical advice, continue to cultivate that ability.
Spend 80% of your development on the 20% of your preaching where you already excel.
What about everything else?
Well, you can’t ignore it, of course. So take the other 20% of your development and use it to make yourself serviceable and responsible to the other 80% of your skills list.
Do The Next Right Thing
Put a 30-minute block on your calendar and list out ten skills required to be an effective preacher or teacher.
If you need help, here’s my list:
- Long-range planning process
- Exegesis (original languages and commentaries)
- Writing process
- Delivery preparation and practice
- Authentic personality
- Shape and tone of the sermon embody the genre of the text
- Clear central point to the message
- Illustration and application
- Clear call to action
From your list, identify 2-3 skills that you consider as your strengths.
Within a couple of days of making your list, ask several people (spouse, staff, etc.) what they think your biggest strength is as a preacher or teacher. It’s possible that their list will be entirely different from yours; however, I find that to be rarely the case.
Build a quarterly development plan that hones your strengths:
- Articulate a goal (‘I want to improve the main point of my message’)
- Develop a performance indicator - a way you know that you’re growing (’In every sermon, I want to frame my main point as a question to be answered’)
- Clarify a plan (‘Once I have compiled all my notes, I’ll frame my question/main point before building my sermon outline’)
A clear investment in your strengths is the pathway to maximizing your impact as a preacher or teacher.
80% of your value...20% of your skill
Wait, There's More
This post was originally published in Leadership Weekly, a handpicked collection of leadership resources from across the internet.
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