Charles Spurgeon is arguably one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity.
- He preached over 600 sermons before the age of 20.
- The collection of his recorded sermons fills 63 volumes and over 20 million words, making it the largest collection of books by a single Christian author.
- He once spoke to an audience of 23,654 without the use of a microphone or sound system.
- He frequently preached 10 times per week because he accepted so many invitations to speak.1
Spurgeon was so gifted and influential that it’s no wonder he earned the nickname of the “Prince of Preachers.”
It’s safe to say that we could all learn much about preaching from such a prolific preacher.
So here are 12 preaching tips that Charles Spurgeon taught his students:
1. PRAYER IS SERMON PREP
Nothing prepares you to preach more than prayer.
“Prayer will singularly assist you in the delivery of your sermon; in fact, nothing can so gloriously fit you to preach as descending fresh from the mount of communion with God to speak with men. None are so able to plead with men as those who have been wrestling with God on their behalf.”2
2. USE STRIKING INTRODUCTIONS
The beginning of your sermon should immediately capture our attention.
“I prefer to make the introduction of my sermon very like that of the town-crier, who rings his bell and cries, ‘Oh, yes! Oh, yes! This is to give notice,’ merely to let people know that he has news for them, and wants them to listen. To do that, the introduction should have something striking in it. It is well to fire a startling shot as the signal gun to clear the decks for action.”3
3. LONG SERMONS ARE A PRODUCT OF SHORT STUDY
It takes a higher level of preparation and discipline to say less.
“Brevity is a virtue within the reach of all of us; do not let us lose the opportunity of gaining the credit which it brings. If you ask me how you may shorten your sermons, I should say, study them better. Spend more time in the study that you may need less in the pulpit. We are generally longest when we have least to say.”4
4. VARY YOUR VOICE
Nobody wants to listen to a monotone preacher.
“What a pity that a man who from his heart delivered doctrines of undoubted value, in language the most appropriate, should commit ministerial suicide by harping on one string, when the Lord had given him an instrument of many strings to play upon! Alas! alas! for that dreary voice, it hummed and hummed like a mill-wheel to the same unmusical turn, whether its owner spake of heaven or hell, eternal life or everlasting wrath. It might be, by accident, a little louder or softer, according to the length of the sentence, but its tone was still the same, a dreary waste of sound, a howling wilderness of speech in which there was no possible relief, no variety, no music, nothing but horrible sameness.”5
5. PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH
Your life off the stage overshadows your message on it.
“We have all heard the story of the man who preached so well and lived so badly, that when he was in the pulpit everybody said he ought never to come out again, and when he was out of it they all declared he never ought to enter it again… We do not trust those persons who have two faces, nor will men believe in those whose verbal and practical testimonies are contradictory. As actions, according to the proverb, speak louder than words, so an ill life will effectually drown the voice of the most eloquent ministry.”6
Clear communication begins with clear enunciation.
“Take great care of the consonants, enunciate every one of them clearly; they are the features and expression of the words. Practice indefatigably till you give every one of the consonants its due; the vowels have a voice of their own, and therefore they can speak for themselves. In all other matters exercise a rigid discipline until you have mastered your voice, and have it in hand like a well-trained steed.”7
7. SILENCE IS GOLDEN
A pause can also snap the listener to attention.
“Know how to pause. Make a point of interjecting arousing parentheses of quietude. Speech is silver, but silence is golden when hearers are inattentive. Keep on, on, on, on, on, with commonplace matter and monotonous tone, and you are rocking the cradle, and deeper slumbers will result; give the cradle a jerk, and sleep will flee.”8
8. USE NATURAL GESTURES
Be yourself, not a cheap imitation of somebody else.
“Your mannerism must always be your own, it must never be a polished lie, and what is the aping of gentility, the simulation of passion, the feigning of emotion or the mimicry of another man’s mode of delivery but a practical lie.”9
9. APPEAL TO PEOPLE’S SELF-INTEREST
Embrace the fact that each person is his or her favorite subject.
“I suggest again that in order to secure attention all through a discourse we must make the people feel that they have an interest in what we are saying to them. This is, in fact, a most essential point, because nobody sleeps while he expects to hear something to his advantage. I have heard of some very strange things, but I never did hear of a person going to sleep while a will was being read in which he expected a legacy, neither have I heard of a prisoner going to sleep while the judge was summing up, and his life was hanging in jeopardy. Self-interest quickens attention. Preach upon practical themes, pressing, present, personal matters, and you will secure an earnest hearing.”10
10. TELL STORIES
A good story attracts attention.
“I have often seen some poor fellow standing in the aisle at the Tabernacle. Why, he looks just like a sparrow that has got into a church, and cannot get out again! He cannot make out what sort of service it is; be begins to count how many people sit in the front row in the gallery, and all kinds of ideas pass through his mind. Now I want to attract his attention; how shall I do it? If I quote a text of Scripture, he may not know what it means, and may not be interested in it. Shall I put a bit of Latin into the sermon, or quote the original Hebrew or Greek of my text? That will not do for such a man. What shall I do? Ah! I know a story that will, I believe, just fit him.”11
11. PREACH CHRIST
Always preach the simple gospel.
“Of all I would wish to say this is the sum; my brethren, PREACH CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him… We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war.”12
12. INVITE EVALUATION
Even the best preachers slide into bad habits.
“Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely. What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool! Correct yourself diligently and frequently, or you will fall into errors unawares, false tones will grow and slovenly habits will form insensibly; therefore criticize yourself with unceasing care. Think nothing little by which you may be even a little more useful. But, gentlemen, never degenerate in this business into pulpit fops, who think gesture and voice to be everything.”13
- Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students, Kindle ed. (Fig, 2012), 45.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 133.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 135.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 111.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 17.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 123.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 138.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 302.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 138-39.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 395.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 79.
- Spurgeon, Lectures, 123.