Two weeks ago, we had another preaching lab. These labs are designed to give all of the residents a chance to preach in front of one another, and also in front of the Austin Stone’s best preachers. It’s called a lab because it’s a place to test our skill and growth from the last lab, and we’re also given feedback and practical next steps for how to improve. Here’s what I learned and experienced during the last lab.
My Heart while Preparing
As I’ve mentioned previously, preaching (and public speaking in general) has been a weak point for me. Actually, it’s one of the areas that stings my pride the most because it’s so difficult to me. In God’s providence however, the text that we were assigned to preach on addressed this very issue in my heart.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
As I was studying and working through this word from God, he convicted me strongly that my boasting has to be in him alone, not in my strengths and abilities. In regard to preaching, my boasting was being attacked because I had nothing to boast in; no skill or gifting or anything that I could boast about, which is why it was so frustrating and difficult for me – my pride was being threatened. Thank the Lord that he is gracious to expose where we boast and where our pride is so that we can give that up to him.
I was much more comfortable during this lab than I was the last time. Part of that, the major part, was God just working in me to not fear having my weaknesses exposed. The other was that I didn’t try to go word for word off of my sermon manuscript, but instead I just used a rough topical outline and preached from that.
The most encouraging feedback that I got was that I connected most with the audience when I was vulnerable during the sermon. This happened as I talked personally how the text had been speaking to me during the week, and even that day, as I watched more talented/gifted men deliver their sermons. I tried to use that feeling to encourage the men not to trust in or boast in our pastoral giftings, but to look to Jesus to be sufficient for us in every way. I want to learn how to connect more with my audience by being vulnerable both with serious heart issues, but also through humor, honesty, story, etc.
The other feedback I received was:
- A lot of the sermon seemed more like commentary, not preaching. This is absolutely an area I need to grow in. Being able to talk about the text and deliver the actual sermon portion is different than looking over the text and explaining what it says.
- You can connect to your audience through using paradigms (you’ve probably heard many Mary/Martha illustrations for example) and stories.
- Spend more time memorizing your manuscript so that you can be comfortable in your delivery. A lot of preachers can simply preach extemporaneously after spending time studying the text, but many others have to memorize large chunks or all of their sermon in order to deliver it well. I’m going to have to learn what works best for me.
- Need to hear the main propositional statement of the sermon more heavily emphasized. This is the driving statement that summarizes your sermon, and the main point that you want your listeners to hear. I had this strongly emphasized and repeated in my manuscript, but it seems like that in my delivery it didn’t come across.