Having been a preacher at numerous congregations, having been involved in preacher training at several schools, and having observed various practices of preachers, I have several practical suggestions that may be helpful, especially for young or inexperienced preachers.
Know the Word
First, a thorough knowledge of God’s word is fundamental to good preaching. To acquire this knowledge beyond formal schooling, I suggest that preachers spend about thirty minutes in daily Bible reading, seven days each week. (If your schedule demands that you occasionally miss a day or two, make it up either ahead of schedule or at a later time.)
Ideally, a routine of Bible reading for one half-hour each day should be in addition to sermon or class preparations. (Three ten minute segments could substitute for one thirty minute reading.)
By reading the Bible thirty minutes each day, the New Testament can be read in a month, and the Old Testament can be read in just a few days more than three months. This can be accomplished by a reading speed at the rate normally spoken over the radio or to a public audience.
This daily Bible reading procedure can result in reading the Old Testament twice and the New Testament four or five times each year with several extra days to spare, depending on one’s personal reading speed. If a preacher does this for ten or more years, he will have acquired an excellent and balanced knowledge of the Bible.
The more general Bible knowledge a preacher has, the less time he’ll need to spend for specific lesson preparations, the more capable he’ll become in memorizing Scriptures, and the greater understanding he’ll have of particular Scriptures to meet needs of his audiences.
Know the Audience
Second, a thorough knowledge of a preacher’s audiences is essential. By audiences, I mean individuals, families, and their communities, individually and collectively.
When a preacher moves to a community where he has not lived previously, he should seek to become well informed about that community and its history. A preacher should learn everyone’s names in his congregation. Whenever possible, preachers should visit in everyone’s homes and work-settings and become informed about significant events and happenings in peoples’ lives.
Whenever I’m initially getting acquainted with people I like to ask a couple of questions, whenever appropriate. The first question concerns what factors motivated them to become Christians. Did they grow up in the church? How did they learn the gospel? Who influenced their decisions, etc.? The second question relates to how a husband and wife met and decided to get married.
People generally do not hesitate to answer non-intrusive personal questions. In fact, they are often pleased to have been asked. I try not to pry into personal backgrounds. Even so, their answers often provide me with information I would otherwise not have. Their answers enable me to assess how I might better serve their specific spiritual needs. Of course, if they want to know more about me I’m willing to answer those same (and other) questions.
Know How to Make It Relevant
Third, a thorough knowledge of how to apply God’s word to people’s needs is important. When Paul told Timothy to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15), he was not exhorting Timothy to study the Scriptures so much as he was encouraging him to be very diligent in rightly dispensing it to others.
Just as a mother needs to know the benefits of particular foods and which foods are most appropriate to meet each child’s health needs, so also the preacher must know the Bible and his audiences well enough to realize those portions of God’s word that should be given to meet their individual specific spiritual needs.
If a preacher has excellent knowledge of Scripture and a thorough understanding of his audiences’ spiritual needs, he can then set goals, establish procedures, and develop lessons to assist individuals to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. In dispensing the Scriptures, the preacher needs to know how to do so effectively whether in public or private. He should do so lovingly, perhaps tactfully and diplomatically, yet boldly and without hesitation whenever needed.
While these suggestions are intended primarily for preachers, they may also be appropriate, in various degrees, for teachers and others. Whenever preachers and teachers have an excellent knowledge of the Bible, a thorough knowledge of needs of people to whom they preach and teach, and some understanding of how biblical truths should be presented, they’ll not need to be concerned about what subjects need to be preached or taught because subject matter may become not only self-evident, but perhaps even more abundant than time is available. In any case, whatever subject content is presented in the available time will more likely have greater richness and appropriateness.