If you wanted to become a better golfer—even if you'd never played golf in your life—you'd know you have to "practice." You'd probably ask for help from advanced golfers who know the steps needed to grow your game.
They'd probably advise:
- head to the driving range and hit a lot of balls
- learn the mechanics of a good golf swing
- take lessons from a golf pro
- watch golf tournaments and learn by observing the "greats"
- and that's barely the start
As preachers, most of us want to become "better."
But how?" What are the steps? What should preachers be "practicing" to grow in our "game"?
I suggest there are ten areas in which preachers can commit to practicing, growing, and learning. I call a preacher's dedication to these ten components "The Preacher's Trust"—because the sacred call to preach has been entrusted to the preacher, and they in turn demonstrate their dedication to spread the Gospel (as best they and God can manage together) in these ways.
These categories don't make a new "to-do" list for already busy preachers. They are the holy foundation upon which we stand—and without which we cannot preach faithfully.
Spend time regularly with God apart from the need to pray "for the job" of ministry.
2) Read Scripture
Spend time regularly reading, listening to, and asking questions about the Good Book—again, for your own sake, not just because your ministry requires it.
3) Cultivate Wonder, Curiosity, Awe, and Gratitude
Discover perpetually God's endless creativity. Let it spark your imagination and gratitude so you never take God's gifts for granted.
4) Seek Respite in Sermon Prep
Instead of being a box on the checklist, let sermon prep itself feed you spiritually. In that way, sermons are not a chore but a source of perennial joy.
5) Trust You're Loved
We tell parishioners God loves them all the time, and we can cultivate that truth for ourselves, too. When we know God loves us, it spills forth into our entire ministries—and lives. Besides, when we know we're loved, we know why we preach.
6) Craft Effective Sermons
Know what makes for an "effective" sermon and let it serve as the model for every homily.
7) Proclaim the Gospel No Matter What
Whether the Good News is well received or not, preachers who practice courage and are ever deepening their relationship with God will preach the Gospel no matter what it costs.
8) Preach Ethically
We all know it's unethical to plagiarize, but there's more to it than that. We also need to take care not to cherry-pick verses, manipulate emotional heartstrings, or use the pulpit as our personal bully pulpits no matter how much we think we're justified.
9) Keep Learning
In addition to preaching conferences and books, what's your plan to keep growing and getting better at this craft?
10) Be Accountable
Although it may seem we prepare sermons alone, we're actually part of a body of preachers who are accountable to one another and God to be trustworthy bearers of the Gospel.
If these are the ten components preachers should practice, how do we implement them? What are the next steps?
First, if you haven't already, read Backstory Preaching: Integrating Life, Spirituality, and Craft (Liturgical Press, 2018). These ten essential components to becoming a better preacher culminate in the concluding chapter (fittingly titled "The Preacher's Trust"). You'll discover the full Backstory Preaching practice and further appreciate the richness—and do-ability—of The Preacher's Trust.
Second, I hope you'll follow me on Backstory Preaching's Facebook page. Beginning Wednesday, June 20th I'll be sharing suggestions and chronicling some aspect of practicing my own Trust most days of the week—and invite you to do the same.
When we practice with and are held accountable by one another, the Preacher's Trust can make us all "better preachers." We'd love to practice together.