This weekend marked the end of the season for my beloved Kentucky Wildcats. I love watching UK basketball and it was sad to see them lose to the Auburn Tigers. The loss, however, was much easier to take when I heard Duke also lost. A bit of balance was restored to the universe.
When I look back at this basketball season, one of the things I really enjoyed about this year’s Kentucky team was watching our young players improve. They went through some low points this season and at times did not look like a team that would make a run at the Final Four. Yet, as the year progressed, so did these talented young men. They developed as players and by the time the NCAA tournament rolled around they were playing some of their best basketball. Finally, they looked like a championship contender. The effort exerted in practice and through the season was paying off.
This should serve as encouragement to us all. Everyone should desire to improve, to be better, to develop. Whether we are talking about being better at our vocation, growing in our understanding of how to raise our children, or even progressing in our walk with Jesus, we should aim to improve.
Think about parenting for a moment. Do you want to keep improving in that area of your life? I’m sure you do. Who does not want to learn how to better shepherd the heart of their child? Who does not want to do a better job helping their children prepare to succeed in this world? Who does not want to grow in their ability to help their little ones understand the good news of Jesus? I would imagine almost every parent wants to be the best parent they can be and therefore is eager to learn how to do better. Towards that end, parents pray for wisdom, read books about parenting, ask questions of other parents about parenting, take parenting classes, and think about their parenting strategies. Simply put, we often exert significant effort in order to grow in our parenting abilities!
We can run with this idea in almost any area. We want to improve in terms of being husbands and wives. We attempt to improve when it comes to our vocation. Many of us even spend substantial energy (perhaps even money) in order to improve at our hobbies! Fisherman read about fishing. Those who love to hunt purchase subscriptions to hunting magazines and think about their hunting strategies. Name your hobby. You probably want to get better at doing whatever it is you love to do. You want to improve!
Pressing into Preachers
Now, let’s press this idea of improving into one specific area: preaching.
Since I’m a pastor who preaches almost weekly, I’ve given a good bit of thought to improving when it comes to my craft (and I have a long way to go!). Yet, I’m not sure how many pastors actually take time to think about being better at this part of their vocation. I see a lot of encouragement for pastors to think about things like leadership or biblical counseling, but it seems a bit more rare to hear people encouraging pastors to improve when it comes to preaching. It is certainly important for pastors to improve in their ability to lead and counsel. Yet, preaching and teaching the Word is central to the task of any pastor. When Paul writes his final letter to Timothy, his exhortation is clear: “Preach the Word…” (2 Tim 4:2).
Think about how important this is. Preaching in most Protestant churches is the centerpiece of the Sunday morning experience. Since the Reformation, this has been the case. In Medieval Christianity, the Lord’s Supper was central. However, the early Reformers like Luther and Calvin placed the preaching of the Word at the center of the church’s corporate gatherings. It is through the preaching of the Word that God speaks to his people and thus exercises his rule. Preaching is a monumental event.
Given the gravitas of the preaching event, pastors should strive to grow in their preaching skills. Yet, how often are pastors encouraged to spend time on this part of their ministry? Perhaps I’m off here. Maybe there are numerous calls to improve as preachers. Praise God if that is so. And if it is, count this article as simply on more voice urging pastors to spend some energy improving their preaching.
Now, when I say a pastor should improve their preaching, I do not mean they should simply read more books about preaching or homiletics. To become a better preacher, I think you need to read more broadly. If someone wants to progress in their pulpit abilities, then in addition to reading books about preaching, they should also read books that help them think about exegesis (like these two or this one). Pastors should engage the best resources on biblical theology (like this one or this one). Sadly, too few pastors take the time to think historically but would find their preaching better rooted in historic Christianity if they read things like this. And, of course, good preaching should lead to careful theological and practical conclusions and applications. Therefore, pastors who would be faithful proclaimers of the Word should give themselves to good systematic theology (like this or this). In sum, to improve as an interpreter and proclaimer of the Word of God for the good of the church, pastors should spend time thinking at some level in a wide array of theological disciplines.
Again, we have a plethora of resources at our fingertips. A quick search on Amazon reveals a multitude of books on preaching and biblical interpretation. Outside of reading books, however, there are various organizations, like Simeon Trust, that help pastors think more deeply about the preaching task. Conferences like Bethlehem’s Conference for Pastors & Church Leaders devote an entire track to preaching (this year, Tony Merida and Jason Cook are leading the preaching seminars). And surely pastors have people around them that would welcome the chance to give constructive criticism when it comes to the sermons they are hearing. The point is, are you taking advantage of the resources around you to become a better preacher?
Next year, the University of Kentucky will undoubtedly bring in another group of young and talented players. One can only hope they develop quickly and make a run at a title. It’ll be fun to watch.
As parents and husbands and wives and workers, we all want to improve. We want to be better at whatever it is we are doing, whether it is our job or our hobbies. When it comes to following Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, Christians want to more faithfully follow their King. So, we read our Bibles, pray our prayers, lean into our churches and seek to grow in Christlikeness.
And, by God’s grace, if you’re a preacher, you have a burning desire to better communicate God’s truth to God’s people. In order to improve, to grow in the work the Lord has called you to, then think carefully and spend some energy to improve. Not so people will stand in awe of your oratorical skills, but for the good of the church and the glory of Christ.