Sunday, August 09, 2020

Preaching to Cows

Heard from a radio preacher this morning (approximate quote): "When my pastor was teaching me to be a preacher, he told me to grab my Bible, and he'd take me out to preach. He gave me a bullhorn and drove out to the country. He told me to open the window and start preaching. At some point I said, 'Pastor, why am I doing this? There's nothing out here but cows!' He said, 'Son, when you're ready for people, I'll take you into town. But for now, just preach!'" It's a funny story, but it teaches a real truth. Preachers need to practice if they're going to improve. 

Now most would-be preachers aren't going to have someone take them out to preach to cows. These beginning preachers will be placed in front of congregations. Very few of them are any good at it when they start. Listening to them is like listening to someone starting to play the violin. It can be excruciatingly painful. But if a man is called to preach, he must practice. And that means that congregations are going to be subjected to beginning preaching.

Some advice for those afflicted congregations. First, welcome him. He's nervous and unsure. Make him feel comfortable. Second, don't overpraise him. You may think it will encourage him, but it will likely encourage him to think he doesn't need to improve. Third, don't overcriticize him. I don't know a single preacher who is not, at some level, insecure about his preaching. Beginning preachers, except the arrogant ones (who are usually full of themselves and probably shouldn't be preaching) are insecure and sensitive about their work. Fourth, don't ignore him. He needs help and encouragement, and maybe some instruction. Those who are good at public speaking, or teaching, might consider offering your assistance. I think it is especially incumbent on overseeing pastors to spend time with beginning preachers after they have preached. Gently point out to him things he did well and things that need to improve. Fifth, don't approach him immediately after the service to point out his errors. Preachers after the service are generally emotionally spent and not in a good position to receive correction. Wait until a more opportune time.

Now some advice for those beginning preachers. First, practice! Preach every chance you can find. If God has called you to preach, preach! Sign up to preach for chapel services at the local rescue mission or homeless shelter, or prison if it's allowed. If you're in seminary and have had some homiletics instruction, and people have approved for you to do pulpit supply in local churches, take every chance you can get. Second, record yourself and listen to yourself afterward. It's painful, but you will hear your mistakes and will learn to do better. Third, work with simple and clear passages. Develop a file of sermons that you can hone over time, and that can be adjusted timewise to fit any time between fifteen and thirty-five minutes. Some places that you might preach may limit you to fifteen minutes. And most preachers, beginning preachers especially, do not do well when they go past thirty-five minutes. Fourth, be open to instruction and criticism. Whether it is given in a spirit of love or not, criticisms can help you get better. 

If you have to preach to cows, preach to cows. Eventually, they'll put you in front of people.