There is no better way to learn the Bible than Seminary. And though I have a Masters of Divinity, there were a few things I didn’t learn about preaching during these educational years. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention in class (after all, I was long-distance dating my soon-to-be wife during the first round and leading a church during the second), but here are five things I didn’t learn in seminary about preaching.
1. You need to preach like YOU.
I learned a lot about Bible exposition, preparing an outline and staying true to the text. All of these things are very important, but I didn’t learn how to preach using my unique voice. We studied other great preachers, but preaching like someone else caused me to fall flat. My experiences, style and failures are unique – I can’t learn those from anyone else. Finding my own unique voice happened outside of the classroom.
Earlier this year, I had the incredible opportunity to lead a session at the Preaching Rocket tour, which kicked off at NorthPoint Community Church. The other three speakers that day were Jeff Henderson, Louie Giglio and Andy Stanley. I was nervous and I didn’t do all that well, largely because I tried to communicate like someone else.
2. Your points are forgotten.
I grew up in a church that loved alliteration, and I learned how to craft a powerful outline in seminary. But nobody told me nobody would remember all of those alliterated points. I wish it didn’t take so long to learn this principle, because I wasted a lot of time covering information when I should have been inspiring with stories. If you want to learn more about the power of storytelling (and where to find great sermon stories), I did a free webinar on this very subject. You can watch it on-demand right here.
When I look back on stuff I remember, it’s a lot of stories. When I get together with friends, we tell stories. When I try to get through to my kids, I tell them a story. Preaching is much the same.
3. Your audience doesn’t care.
When I was in seminary, I bought into the belief that people would come to church because what happened there was so important. In reality, people don’t think about church much throughout the week. And people don’t have built-in care when it comes to the sermon. Just because I think about it all week doesn’t mean they do.
People don’t care about a topic just because it’s in the Bible. And they don’t listen to me just because I’m the preacher standing behind a pulpit. When I step up to preach, I need to assume nobody cares about what I am about to say.
One of the most important things a pastor can do in the first five minutes of their message is to show the congregation why they should care. Instead of force feeding, we need to make them hungry.
4. Be engaging and funny.
In seminary,I was taught how to be faithful to the text. And that’s important. But I didn’t learn how to be engaging and funny. After all, being funny and engaging doesn’t seem very spiritual. But humor is a universal language – a smile communicates in nearly every culture. I learned a ton about this from watching other skilled communicators, including comedians and business presenters.
I’ve spoken in a lot of different places, but humor is one of those universal connection points. It might not sound very spiritual, but it’s really important.
5. You need to raise up other communicators.
Seminary was all about learning to preach. But one of the MOST important tasks of preachers is to build up another generation. I cut my ministry teeth as a youth pastor, and once got to speak to adults was on low-attendance, holiday weekends. My pastors taught on Sunday morning and Sunday nights, and only gave up the pulpit to traveling evangelists. I would have loved the opportunity to be mentored, but it never seemed like a priority.
Today, the preachers I admire don’t see themselves as the sole funnel for God’s voice, but intentionally raise up other communicators. It’s not honorable to preach every weekend of the year – step away from the pulpit and raise up some other people who can preach the gospel.
Those are five lessons about preaching I didn’t learn in seminary. Some of them I learned the hard way, and some of them I’m still learning.