I know. You probably took a preaching class (or multiple) in seminary. But our preaching classes in seminary are only the first step in a lifetime of ongoing learning about how the Word is rightly exegeted, understood, and applied in our churches. For one, our seminary preaching labs are often built to resemble churches, complete with pulpits, and with a camera to record you for grading (or destruction) later. True story, this was a chapel at the seminary I went to with its awesome elevated preaching platform.
Your time in seminary should be an incredibly intense time of exegesis, learning the technical aspects of digging into a text to find what its meaning is and how that meaning, seen through the lens of the Gospel, applies to us. You should read big books on preaching, read and listen to good sermons, and work hard to learn how to navigate multiple genres of biblical text (hint: you can't live all your ministry in Paul). Those are invaluable skills that are refined and learned in the crucible of seminary.
But there's so much about preaching that you'll never learn in a seminary preaching classroom.
You'll learn to weep over people's trials in your preparation - The biggest difference between preaching a text in a seminary classroom and preaching in the local church is you're speaking directly into the lives of people you're serving and ministering alongside. As you prepare and study for each Sunday, you'll find yourself drawn to certain people going through circumstances the text speaks to. This Sunday I'm preaching on anxiety and worry from Matthew 6, and I've spent time with someone worked up and anxious. It's pushed me to pray for them as I've reflected and prayed.
You'll learn to plan and prepare preaching in series - Expository preaching is often the best diet for a local church, the regular feeding from the Word preached verse-by-verse through lengthy chunks. So your series can be going through an entire book of the Bible, working through significant portions (Sermon on the Mount), or even doing surveys of books of the Bible (covering books like Exodus or 1-2 Kings in a span of 10-12 weeks for example). Series help you shape what you feel like God is wanting your church to hear. Even topical series, which are still incredibly valuable, provide a systematic way of developing godliness among your people.
You'll learn to calendar in advance - I know a lot of guys in ministry who go week to week deciding what to preach on. I served with one pastor who I remember asking on Thursday afternoon what he was preaching on (so I could weave it into our youth group opening that day). He said he didn't know, and I think I had a mild heart attack. But when you are in the weekly (and monthly and yearly) process of preaching regularly, you'll learn to structure your messages. Each year I know I'm going to have a few special emphases, I'll take a week in the beginning of the year to cast vision, I'll preach in October about deacons as our church elects new ones, I'll do a 4 week Christmas series, and I know I'll be out a couple Sundays for vacation. Developing a calendar helps me plan around these benchmark moments in the church calendar (I don't do Mother's/Father's Day or July 4 messages, you might and that's ok).
You'll learn to lay an egg and move on - When you're preaching for a grade, you get a limited number of chances. So it needs to be strong. It needs to be crisp. When you're preaching 45-50 Sundays a year, the law of averages says you're going to have a dud. It might be after being sick for a week, or after a busy season, or just one of those days where the illustrations are flat and you're watching the clock more than anyone else. When you're preaching week in and week out, it'll happen. Move on. And when you lay an egg, that's sometimes where God speaks most strongly to people because when we lay an egg, it's the reminder that it's not about us.
You'll learn to manage time better - Effective ministry is often the wearing of many hats. You're a leader, a visionary, a janitor, a counselor, available labor (I got drafted once into climbing a ladder to cut a palm tree--not what I'd envisioned for a Monday). And the regular practice of preaching forces us to remember that no matter what we might be facing in the week, Sunday will come exactly every 7 days. When we're preaching regularly, we're finding ways to grow in how we manage our time, prioritize our preparation, schedule our meetings, and commit to extra appointments.
Pastor, what's something you learned after seminary about preaching?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.