What separates the best communicators from the rest? Is it simply God-given talent? A spiritual gift of teaching or prophecy? Is it personality? Or is it something else?
These were the questions beginning to swirl around in my head as I read Geoff Colvin’s fascinating book Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. And maybe even more than that was a more foundational question: Does what he is arguing apply to preaching on any level? And if so, how far does it go?
Colvin’s work is backed by research. It’s not just a thought-leader book. It’s a research-based argument for a very specific way of seeing the development of the best “performers” in any industry. And to take it a step further, what he shows is how any of us can adopt the same tactics and work toward improving what we do in any industry.
Preaching Talent Is Overrated?
Our common belief about talent (in any area of life) is predominantly the idea that someone who performs at a “world-class” level was simply born with that kind of innate talent—that whatever that thing is that they are “world-class” at came easy to them.
But what if that’s not exactly true?
Colvin argues convincingly that anyone who is great at something didn’t just stand up and let their talent take over. No. There’s something far less exciting going on.
But then again, the more I think about it the more I realize that it IS exciting news. Especially for us preachers.
The Common Denominator for World-Class Performers
I’ll let The Answer give you the answer.
See, didn’t I tell you this wasn’t very “exciting”?
But think about it.
If the research shows that no one—not Tiger Woods, not Mozart, not Jack Welch or any other uber “talented” person—just simply arrived as a great performer in their industry, what made them become what they became?
It took years and years of what Colvin calls deliberate practice.
It takes time to develop into a great “fill in the blank” no matter how we fill that blank in. The answer is the same. It takes deliberate practice to approach the status of world class in anything.
And here’s where some may get upset: The same is true for preaching.
Do I believe that God gifts us with spiritual gifts? Absolutely!
Do I believe that He is the one who gets the glory? Absolutely!
Do I believe that the preaching moment belongs to the Holy Spirit working through a broken piece of pottery—you and me? Yep!
At the same time, I also believe that we must develop those gifts in order for them to manifest fully.
I believe that we have a responsibility to fan into flame the gift God gave us.
I believe that we must work to improve in the art and craft of biblical preaching,
An acorn has the potential to become a large oak tree. But in order for it to grow, it has to be cultivated and cared for.
The same is true for our preaching.
Think about it: Are you a better preacher today than you were the first time you stepped into the pulpit? Of course, you are. By simply getting reps, over time, we can improve tremendously.
But what Colvin shows is that there is a way to maximize our development—even as preachers.
Elements of Deliberate Practice
If we want to become better preachers, it requires us to engage in deliberate practice. So the question is, what is that?
I’m glad you asked.
Colvin outlines the following elements of deliberate practice:
- It’s designed specifically to improve performance
- Colvin advocates here for the utilization of a coach.
- He also says, “Deliberate practice requires that one identify certain sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved and then work intently on them.”
- It can be repeated a lot
- Feedback on results is continuously available
- It’s highly demanding mentally
- It isn’t much fun
Here’s his overarching point: “Practice is designed, so it can be designed well or badly.”
Avoiding Auto-Pilot Preaching
One of the greatest benefits of engaging in the difficult task of deliberate practice is that it helps us avoid the third stage of development where the task at hand becomes automatic.
For example, do you think about all the mechanics of driving? Probably not. You do them automatically. But this isn’t a good environment for improvement. It’s a great environment for a slow decline.
And the same can be said for our preaching when we don’t engage in deliberate practice. When we don’t intentionally work to improve how we deliver messages, when we don’t look for ways to prepare better, when we don’t stretch ourselves when we sit down to write a message, we are setting ourselves up for a slow decline over time instead of constant improvement over time.
This Is Good News, Friend
This means that any of us, no matter our personality, no matter our experience level, you and me, friend, we can improve in our preaching.
And if we want to get serious, we can improve tremendously.
But it won’t be easy.
It will be difficult.
It will stretch us.
We’ll have to be intentional.
We’ll likely need a coach to get us going.
But it can happen.
I’m convinced that our best preaching days are ahead of us.
Do you believe it?
This article originally appeared here.