Why Preachers Should Forget About Being Well-Rounded

I’m not talking about building your platform—it’s about finding your voice.

Great preachers are not well-rounded communicators.

Last week, Thabiti Anyabwile pointed out that Charles Spurgeon’s method of taking every message to the cross was flawed. Because of Spurgeon’s popularity (I do chuckle when men with Spurgeon bobblehead dolls rail against celebrity pastors), Thabiti’s post attracted a lot of attention.

But the most significant lesson for those of us who preach, teach and communicate to groups of people got tossed to the side.

If you read the article, I wonder if you picked up on it. If you didn’t read it, let me save you a few minutes.

Quit trying to be well-rounded.

That’s the most practical, actionable takeaway from Spurgeon’s legacy.

Think of the preachers in your tribe who have the largest platforms. Every single one of them has something that stands out in their preaching.

Their fidelity to the biblical text.

Their creative storytelling that brings the text to life.

Their humor.

Their insight into culture or the human heart.

Their ability to call people to take clear steps toward faith and obedience.

Now, what does this mean for you?

I’m not talking about building your platform. It’s about finding your voice.

I’m not interested in debating the merits of particular philosophies of preaching. I want to help you be the best preacher you possibly can be.

And what I’m finding is that most preachers are going about the task of self-improvement the wrong way.

A Better Way to Get Better

I am a performance coach. I create customizable solutions for leaders in different areas of their life and leadership, including preaching.

Last week, I had a conversation about preaching with several clients who feel like a hamster on a wheel. They are working hard at the task of communication, but they don’t feel like they are going anywhere. They are completely committed to improvement and can tell me what they have tried to do to get better.

Based on what I knew about each of them, I quickly picked up on a common theme.

Their efforts at improving themselves were focused exclusively on an aspect of preaching they aren’t very good at—working with original languages, illustrating their main point clearly and succinctly, improving their eye contact.

Now all of those are critical components of effective preaching. You can’t be a faithful preacher without implementing all three in your preparation and delivery.

But those areas of struggle will never be a strength. So I proposed a different path.

I asked each of them to list out the 10 critical skills they needed to have to be an effective preacher. Their lists had a lot in common, from the preparation process to the importance of introductions to the challenge of calling people to a clear next step.

Do you have a list of 10 skills? Do you know what it takes to be a faithful, effective preacher or teacher?

If I had to guess, you can look at your list and identify two to three skills that are uncommon strengths for you as a communicator. And the rest are either elements that you struggle with or just don’t gravitate toward.

When I asked my clients to identify two to three strengths, each of them was able to do so rather quickly. And they agreed that the rest of the list represented real challenges or places of relative indifference.

Why?

Because their unique impact as a preacher is the result of the things that they do well. Their strengths produce their value as a communicator.

There’s a principle that says that 80 percent of your value is the result of 20 percent of your effort. Translated, that means that your two to three strengths as a preacher are far and away the reason people are willing to listen to you.

Don’t believe me?

Think back to Spurgeon and the ‘high-capacity’ preachers who end up on the main stage of your favorite conference. Why do so many people want to listen to them? Because they play to their strengths.

Play to Your Strengths

What if you reimagine your development as a preacher or teacher?

Instead of trying to excel at every skill associated with effective communication, spend most of your time honing your strengths.

If you’re a genius at studying a text and crafting a captivating story, focus on better study methods or learning to tell stories without using any notes.

If you give good practical advice, continue to cultivate that ability.

Spend 80 percent of your development on the 20 percent of your preaching where you already excel.

What about everything else?

Well, you can’t ignore it, of course. So take the other 20 percent of your development and use it to make yourself serviceable and responsible to the other 80 percent of your skills list.

Do the Next Right Thing

Put a 30-minute block on your calendar and list out 10 skills required to be an effective preacher or teacher.

If you need help, here’s my list:

  1. Long-range planning process
  2. Exegesis (original languages and commentaries)
  3. Writing process
  4. Delivery preparation and practice
  5. Authentic personality
  6. Shape and tone of the sermon embody the genre of the text
  7. Introduction
  8. Clear central point to the message
  9. Illustration and application
  10. Clear call to action

From your list, identify two to three skills that you consider as your strengths.

Within a couple of days of making your list, ask several people (spouse, staff, etc.) what they think your biggest strength is as a preacher or teacher. It’s possible that their list will be entirely different from yours; however, I find that to be rarely the case.

Build a quarterly development plan that hones your strengths:

  • Articulate a goal (‘I want to improve the main point of my message’)
  • Develop a performance indicator—a way you know that you’re growing (‘In every sermon, I want to frame my main point as a question to be answered’)
  • Clarify a plan (‘Once I have compiled all my notes, I’ll frame my question/main point before building my sermon outline’)

A clear investment in your strengths is the pathway to maximizing your impact as a preacher or teacher.

Wait, There’s More

This post was originally published in Leadership Weekly, a handpicked collection of leadership resources from across the Internet. Subscribe today and save time hunting down the help you need to build something great!

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Matt Adair
Matt Adair is the lead pastor of Christ Community Church (christ-community.com) in Athens, GA and the founder of Griddiron, a coaching and consulting firm that helps church leaders build your world so you can change the world. Matt is the former North American Director of the Acts 29 Network, a global partnership of churches that plant churches. Matt is married to Lindsey, is the father of three sons, and is a graduate of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL.