Upon graduating from Bible college or seminary, most preachers have their homiletical toolbox filled to the brim. But sadly with the passage of time these tools become rusty through the lack of use. In his work, One Year to Better Preaching, Daniel Overdorf provides his reader with 52 practical exercises designed to sharpen their preaching skills.
All of the exercises have one single goal: hone a specific preaching skill or technique. These exercises are designed to require only an hour or two of effort. In the theme of a certain late-night talk show, here are my Top 10 favorite exercises (plus one bonus):
1. Balance Your Biblical Diet
This exercise is a great reminder that we need to expose our listeners to the totality of Scripture, both testaments and the variety of genres included. As Overdorf states, "a preaching schedule driven by the Bible rather than by perceived needs will, over the long haul, stimulate greater maturity in the church." (22)
2. Speak to Three Listening Styles
Overdorf gives a good overview of Aristotle's classic elements of rhetoric (ethos, logos, and pathos) and how they influence our listening style. He gives practical examples of how to engage all three styles.
3. Read the Text Well
This most important aspect of the preaching event receives the least attention. Nothing is more frustrating than hearing someone struggle through the Scripture text. It is as if it is the first time they actually looked at the passage.
4. Have Listeners Evaluate You
This is crucial to our growth as communicators. My preaching classes in seminary required the delivery of sermons in front of fellow students and professors. The post-sermon critique is a very humbling experience. But with encouragement and suggestions provided, it helped me identify and correct areas needing extra work.
5. Try a Different Sermon Form
It is easy to get stuck in a rut. We become comfortable with a particular sermon form and then make every sermon fit into this cookie-cutter design. God present's His truth in a variety of forms (narrative, parable, poetry, etc.), so we should mirror this same variety in our sermons.
6. Include Immediate Application
This is the "So What" of the sermon. How many times have you left a sermon but did not have any concrete examples of how to apply it to your life Monday through Saturday?
7. Swap Pulpits
This exercise intrigued me. The thought of swapping pulpits is a scary thought to most. But the idea of forcing us to think, design, and engage a different audience will require us to engage or re-engage communications muscles that may have not been used in quite some time.
8. Land Smoothly in the Conclusion
I must confess this is an area in which I need more work. All the hermeneutical and homiletical work can be undone with a shaky conclusion. This is the time to reinforce the main idea of the message and challenge and encourage our listeners.
9. Read Fiction
This goes closely with number #1 above. Balance Your Diet. I find myself drawn to non-fiction, but I need to remember to look to works of fiction to challenge myself. As Paul in Athens, we need to be able to speak with cultural relevance.
10. Critique a Video of Yourself
This ties in with number 4. In my preaching classes, our sermons were recorded and we were required to watch ourselves and provide a self-evaluation. As painful as this was, I was able to identify both strengths and weaknesses in my sermon delivery.
Bonus: Read Classic Preachers
We can learn much from those who have gone on before us. Make time to read from the likes of Spurgeon, Edwards, Whitefield, etc. and see how the Holy Spirit moved through them.
As preachers, we are constantly being transformed. It should be our desire to grow and become better communicators of the greatest message ever told. This is where this book comes into play. The 52 exercises provided can be completed one per week in no particular order. Additionally, the 52 exercises cover eight categories of skills. One can choose to focus on those exercises that address particular weaknesses.
I would recommend this book for anyone wanting to see how they can enhance and strengthen their communications skills utilizing easy to complete exercises. By just putting a few of the skills into practice, one can take great strides into becoming a better preacher.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Kregel Publications as part of their Academic & Ministry Blog Review Service. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
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