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4 Reasons Why Some Preachers Get Better and Others Don't

3. Passion

Almost all my students are passionate about Christ, about reaching the lost and about the Word of God. The problem is not that they don’t feel passionate but rather that they do not show passion. What I feel is never the point, whether good or bad, but rather how I act.

If my delivery of the Word does not convey that passion, then my audience will not be moved to be passionate about it either. The prophets were all passionate. The apostles were passionate. Jesus was passionate. Why else would farmers, fishermen and housewives come and stand in the Galilean sun for hours just to hear Him?

I once heard a missionary preach at the Southern Baptist Pastors Conference. He was dynamite, preaching a great expository sermon with incredible energy and moving the entire audience by his treatment of the Word and his testimony of baptizing tens of thousands of Africans. Astonished by his great preaching, I approached him and held out my hand to introduce myself.

“Hershael,” he said, shocking me that he knew my name, “we went to seminary together.” Embarrassed, I admitted that I did not remember him. “You had no reason to,” he explained. “I was very quiet, never spoke in class and never went out of my way to meet anyone.” I asked him to explain what happened.

“When I got on the mission field, no one would listen to my preaching of the gospel. I was putting them to sleep. When I came stateside and preached in churches, they were bored to tears. Finally, I realized that the only way to be effective was to preach the Word in the way it deserved to be preached, so I became willing to go beyond my natural personality and comfort zone and allow God to make me effective. I prayed for the Word to so grip me in the pulpit that I would never be boring again.”

His teachability led him to show a passion that was not natural to his introverted personality. It was supernatural.

4. Reckless Abandon

The generation of students I now teach has grown up with the written word—on screens, smart phones, blogs, Kindles and now iPads. Through video games, they have raced cars, built civilizations, won wars, destroyed zombies and killed hundreds.

They communicate orally far less than any previous generation, and when they do so, they typically do it with less passion. Yet God still uses the preaching of His Word—an oral event—to edify the church, encourage the saints and engage the lost.

So to preach the Word, a young man has to be willing to get completely out of the comfortable cocoon he’s built in his personality and habits, and recklessly abandon himself to risk being a fool for Christ.

I tell my students, “That little voice inside your head saying, ‘That’s just not who I am,’ is not your friend. Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit overcomes ‘who I am’ and shapes me into who He wants me to be. So if I need to preach with a reckless abandon that is foreign to my natural way, I will beg the Holy Spirit to help me do it for Christ.”

Pay the Price

Frankly, very few students I teach fail to get the meaning of the text. They often demonstrate an exegetical and hermeneutical sophistication that astounds me. They are serious about the Word.

But they make the mistake of thinking that if they just feel that way, and if they just say the words, the preaching will take care of itself. And if they keep thinking that, if they insist on “data dump” sermons that just concentrate on the content and not also on the delivery, there’s not much I can do for them. They will be the kind of preachers they want to be.

But if someone has a burning calling, a teachable spirit, a passionate heart and a reckless abandon to pay the price to preach well, then not even the limitation of their own background, personality or natural talents will keep them from preaching the Word of God with power.  

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Dr. Hershael W. York is the Senior Pastor of the Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort, Kentucky and the Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. Dr. York is co-author with Bert Decker of Speaking with Bold Assurance (2001), a book that guides Christians in effective communication, and Preaching with Bold Assurance (2003), named one of Preaching magazine’s best books of 2003. Preaching Today has included him among North America’s most effective preachers. His articles have appeared in many journals and magazines, and he is a popular conference speaker in the US, Europe, and South America. He holds a B.A. in English and Classical Civilizations from the University of Kentucky, where he also earned a Master of Arts in Classical Languages. He received a Master of Divinity and also a Doctor of Philosophy in Greek and New Testament from the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee.