For those of you who wish to sharpen your teaching gift, whether it’s a top-level gift or somewhere lower in your mix, you’re desiring exactly what Paul encouraged Timothy to pursue: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” (1 Tim. 4:15) Paul told Timothy to work at improving his preaching. You, in turn, may be asking, “How do I do that? How do I get better?” Here are some ideas that will prove useful.
Listen to Great Preaching and Teaching
In almost every discipline, if you want to improve, you need to watch others. If you want to develop your golf game, you need to watch golf. Study tapes showing people swinging correctly and effectively. I’m a sailboat racer. So if I’m not racing a boat myself, I’ll watch other people race so I can observe their skills. I study how they trim their sails and how their crew works, and I watch their tactics. The way we tend to get better at anything is by putting ourselves in a situation where we can get more information about what we are trying to improve.
Most of us have two or three communicators who really inspire us. We say, “Boy, I wish I could communicate a little more like her” or “a little more like him.” Do more than wish. Get on their tape lists. Read their stuff. Go hear them when you can. And instead of listening to them casually, listen to them with your work gloves on.
Ask some clear questions. Why did that introduction work so well? Why did that point come across with such power? What was there about the structure of that message that made it so memorable?
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In my opinion, the late E. V. Hill was one of the best preachers around. I once watched a tape, marveling at his sense of timing. He came to a very tender part in his message, paused, and then slowly walked around the side of the lectern. He let everything become utterly quiet in the room. Then with a lowered voice, he said something with great emotion and gentleness. It was such a moment from God.
That was helpful for me to watch because my temperament is like a machine gunner. I tend to say, “All right, here’s the point. Now let’s go!” And if I’m not carefully taking time to absorb great preaching and teaching, I’ll unintentionally mow people down with my intensity. I have to learn how to pause, shift the level of passion, and vary the tone of what I do.
Some preachers are great storytellers; I just want to get to the point of what I’m teaching. So when I tell a story that’s full of potential humor, capable of putting some energy in the room, I’m usually so anxious to get to the lesson payoff that I fail to take the necessary time to embellish it.
John Ortberg recently told a great story about himself and Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian winding up on the same airplane. Dr. B. had been upgraded, but John was in the back of the plane. He had fun with that story for several minutes, getting enormous humor out of it with remarks like, “I was eating a chicken-like substance in the back while Dr. B. was dining on fine china.” The point is this: John had a lot of fun with the story and still made a strong point. It gave opportunity for humor. So listen to great preaching and teaching not with the intent to mimic it but rather to learn lessons that can improve your own preaching and teaching.
This next statement is so obvious that I hesitate to even say it. Develop your own unique style. While you want to learn from great preachers, you don’t want to copy their style.