12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching

12 essential skills for great preachingI have read a ton over the past couple of weeks, but graduate school deadlines have kept me so busy that I haven’t had any time to write. So, I thought I would start trying to get caught up by writing a little about a book that I had to read for seminary this semester. 

I’ve been taking a homiletics course called The Foundations of Expository Teaching and Preaching. I’ve had to read portions (and sometimes the whole thing) of several books, but the main textbook for the class has been 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching.

This book takes a student through the steps of composing a sermon over a set of 12 separate worksheets with each worksheet doing different, and yet overlapping development on the sermon. The book goes all the way from mapping the text units for preaching to completing a sermon manuscript. At the conclusion, there is a section on long-range planning of sermons and how to go about doing weekly preparation for the teaching pastor.

It was a read that I wouldn’t have found interesting if I had not have had to of worked through this book with a specific biblical passage as I read. I had to turn in all twelve worksheets and the sermon manuscript that I created based on these worksheets as part of my class grade. It was good but tough work, and I find it hard to believe that a non-vocational pastor could sermon plan in that amount of detail each week. Even at the most basic, planning with this method is likely to have each pastor putting in a good twenty hours a week on their sermons. For vocational pastors, I think that is a reasonable amount. For non-vocational pastors, this feels like the road to burnout.

I noticed . . .

That this book was intensive work. My graduate program provided all of the worksheets as templates, and I have to say that it would be nice if the book provided a download code to get word processing templates of the skill sheets. That would make it much easier for the pastor to implement the method and to store the worksheets in files for each sermon series.

I also noticed that there was a ton of repetition throughout the book to reinforce learning. Since repetition is a hallmark of good preaching, that’s not really surprising for a book written by a preacher. 

I wondered . . . 

Since this method is so in-depth and time consuming, I wondered what streamlining McDill would recommend for the non-vocational pastor. I also wondered if there was a good recommendation for a book of this sort for a non-vocational pastor if McDill doesn’t have any tweaks in his method for those with less time.

I also wondered if using this method would be a good way to get a start on a book that’s been percolating on the back of my mind for a few months. I’m so busy with grad school that I don’t have a bunch of time for it, but I wondered if I could steal a few minutes here or there to start some research and writing, using his method for outlining and textual analysis.

It reminded me of . . . 

This book reminded me of any number of self-help books. There are steps, goals, and checklists to help. And it is very helpful. I think it might be more helpful for a pastor who is attempting to preach through a book systematically to have a method like this to lean on. I also really liked the examples of filled in skill sheets in the back. I found myself using them as a reference my own planning and writing.

Two excellent quotes . . .

As I was thinking about what might sum up this book, I found one quote entering my mind over and over again.  It goes like this:

You have to choose what you will be good at because you can be good at only a very few things.

Pastors are under a lot of pressure to be good at many things, but so long as our churches are sermon centric, the sermon will be the most important thing for a pastor to be good at. He must take this responsibility seriously and develop skill in preaching, even if it is at the detriment of other things.

The second quote that really stood out to me was about the competing purposes for preaching:

While my goal was to straighten out God’s people, their hope was to hear some word to meet their need, and God’s purpose for my preaching was simply that people trust him.

We think we have one purpose and the congregation thinks we have another, but we need to remember that God’s purpose is the one that counts. This goes not just for sermon writing but for all of our goals in life and in dealing with others.

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