When I first started preaching full-time at the ripe old age of 23:
- I had a hard time figuring out how to fill 30 minutes of preaching time. Now, I struggle with how to fit it all into 30 minutes.
- I had about four or five stories I could use as illustrations. After that, it was downhill. Now, illustrations are relatively easy to come by. I spend 90% of my sermon prep time on substance, and 10% on finding things that can illustrate.
- I thought both Greek and humor were more important than they are.
- I thought great preachers all preached on the lecture circuit. Now I realize great preachers feed a church well every week over years. They are more consistently insightful and helpful than entertaining, though they can be both.
- I overestimated the importance of preaching “without notes” and underestimated the power of well-crafted language.
- I thought the aim of my preaching was to help the Word “come alive” for people. I now realize the Word is always alive, I need to avoid deadening it by allowing it to go dead in me. I was the one who needed to come alive.
- I overestimated the occasional “home run” and underestimated the importance of consistently feeding God’s flock.
Why the change in perspective? The well got deeper. What well? My inner well. Experience, my own personal growth, and time spent living the Gospel out alongside God’s people.
Don’t misunderstand me, there are many young communicators who have deep wells. For that matter, there are plenty of shallow, older preachers. It’s just that every preacher goes through an evolution as they get older. I’ve got plenty of “evoluting” left to do. But, I now realize there is a real difference between communicating to large audience of anonymous Christians and feeding people God and you love every week consistently. I highly, highly prefer the latter.
If you want your preaching to get better with time, it certainly takes work. However, it also takes a deeper well. Experience is just one facilitator of a deepening the well. Our well deepens when God digs it deeper through whatever means He chooses. It might be experience. It might be personal tragedy, relational connection with your church, or the removing of sin from one’s own life. It may be a work ethic at study that God honors with a deeper well or all of the above.
We can work on becoming a better communicator and become just that. But, to become a better preacher, the well must get deeper. This is to say, we must get deeper. We must come to know Christ, His Church, His people, and yes, ourselves better each day and grow from it. That is the best way to become a better preacher–and disciple. The shallower the well, the more polluted and unsatisfying the water is to the thirsty.
Seek the deeper well.