Every preacher has at least one primary strength from which all preachers can glean. I have been preaching for more than 20 years and teaching preaching for more than 10 of those years. I love listening to preachers who hit the proverbial ball out of the park in key areas, especially in areas where I strike out or get singles. Here are 7 skills we can learn from 7 different preachers. All of the following preachers have sermons that can be easily accessed on the internet.
Andy Stanley and Conversational Delivery: Stanley breaks many of the old rhetorical rules. At times, he talks too fast, uses too many hand gestures, and doesn’t enunciate well. Yet, tens of thousands of people listen to him live and online each week. Why? Because he replicates in the preaching event what happens naturally in conversation. He seems natural, conversational and, as a result, authentic. In conversation we don’t always enunciate, we talk too fast when excited, and we get overly animated with our hands. So does Stanley and that’s one reason why people listen to him. Preach like you converse and listeners will feel like they are in dialogue with a real person not a plastic pulpiteer.
Christine Caine and Passionate Testimony: Caine has grown in popularity as a preacher over the past decade, even in surprising circles where female preachers are not endorsed. Even naysayers sense the passionate conviction with which she preaches. She does not simply tell us about God, she tells us about her experiences with God. She sprinkles her powerful testimony into her sermons. But, she is careful to share her testimony in ways that help the listener know God, not her, better. Caine shares her story in a manner that helps listeners access their stories in light of the story of God as revealed in Scripture. Caine’s credibility and authority are anchored in her experience with God. The listener senses, “she walks with God.” Caine shows preachers how to be testimonial without being self-centered.
Fred Craddock and Inductive Progression: Craddock was a pastor and teacher of preaching for more than half a century. He recently passed away but not before passing on a legacy for those who dare to preach. One of the main hallmarks of his preaching was his ability to replicate for listeners the journey of joyful discovery he experienced while preparing the sermon in his study. Craddock contended that too often preachers reverse what happened in the study by starting the sermon deductively. They begin with the bottom line discovery it took them a week to discern in the study. This makes the sermon dull and boring. The listeners are handed the main thrust of the sermon at the outset and they have no reason to listen beyond the sermon introduction. Craddock, as well as Jesus in his parables, taught us the art of the inductive sermon by taking listeners on a journey of joyful discovery. Sometimes Craddock would hold back the sermon focus and resolution until the last minute of the sermon. Craddock’s sermons moved toward the focus inductively instead of starting with the focus deductively and proving it.
T.D. Jakes and Contextual Colloquialisms: Jakes puts biblical concepts and narratives in the language of his people with power. He playfully connects the characters in the biblical text with contemporary images and situations. He is careful, when he does this, not to neglect the historical and literary context of the text. Instead, he contextualizes the exegetical realities of the text so that the world of the bible and the world of the listener are merged. So, Jakes might describe Moses as shedding his high-top Air Jordan sneakers because he is on holy ground. He might paint a picture of Pilate as a divorced politician coasting toward retirement. Jakes finds ways to contextualize biblical realities by using the colloquialisms of his people. He does this in ways that are faithful to the intent of the text and to the realities of his context.
Steve Deneff and Itch-Eliciting: Steve is my pastor so I have the privilege of hearing him on a weekly basis. His sermon introductions are lengthy. He will use the first 10-15 minutes trying to expose and elicit an itch in listeners that we didn’t even know we had. He exposes our assumptions and debunks them. Steve recognizes that the sermon introduction must elicit an itch the listener will want to have scratched. If not, the listener might not listen. Steve knows his context. Most of the congregation consists of long time churchgoers, people who might assume we already know what we need to know and live how we need to live. Steve has to work extra hard in this context to help us feel an itch we didn’t even know needed to be scratched. He does this masterfully.
Barbara Brown Taylor and Poetic Word-Smithing: There is no one alive who is better at stringing words together than Taylor. She weaves biblical exegesis into the sermon seamlessly without saying “look at my word study” or “check out the historical background of the text.” She is more subtle, more artful in her weaving of the “then and there” of the text with the “here and now” of her context. Taylor poetically words her sermons in a way that blurs the lines between the biblical world and our world, so that our story is caught up in the story of God. She is a manuscript preacher, so her delivery may not be charismatic enough for some. Her content, not her delivery, is her lead card. One gets the sense from listening to Taylor that she labors over every word to find just the right one to fit with all of the others. Listen carefully to the way she uses words to concretize concepts, to paint profound pictures.
Eugene Lowry and Tension to Twist: Lowry is a genius at developing narrative tension in the sermon. And just as listeners are feeling the tension of the biblical text, Lowry will pull a fast one and offer a new twist on a familiar passage. Here’s an example. I heard him preach on the familiar Mary and Martha passage in Luke 10. What is typically preached from this text is the tension between serving and Sabbath, between doing and being, between busyness and stillness. Lowry starts there but then digs deeper to create a new tension and twist. He pulls a fast one by revealing that Mary is not to be commended merely because she sat still at the feet of Jesus but because she was counter-cultural. Mary took on the posture of a disciple, a role reserved for men alone in her culture. Martha stayed in the kitchen doing what women did in that day. Jesus commended Mary not Martha. Lowry used tension and twist to help us see this familiar biblical narrative in a new light.
What skills from the preachers above do you most need to adopt in your preaching today? These skills are not the ones we traditionally learn from a basic preaching course. They are advanced skills that come with experience and intentionality. Go online and check out the preachers who possess the skills you need to enhance your preaching.
Serving Christ with you,