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5 Things Seminary Didn’t Teach You about Preaching

During a recent podcast I was asked, “Why aren’t there more effective preachers in the mainline church?” My response was that one reason is lack of training. Most mainline seminaries only require one introductory preaching class to graduate with an M.Div. What’s worse is the typical preaching intro class is not very practical for parish ministry.

Here are five things seminary didn’t teach you about preaching:

Your listeners did not go to seminary

New preachers often make two false assumptions coming out of seminary: Their congregation will share their frame of reference and will want to know everything they learned in seminary. This is why many sermons sound like a research dump. A sermon is not a lecture. Your sermons must be designed to connect and relate to average listeners.

Reading a manuscript will kill your sermon

I bet you can count on one hand the number of classmates who did not read their sermon in your preaching class. Preparing a manuscript is an effective practice, but reading it is fatal. If you are not making regular eye contact with your listeners they will check out. Find a way to memorize and internalize your script. Yes, it is a lot of work but your listeners will thank you.

A sermon is an oral event, not a verbose essay

In seminary many of us read the sermons of Fred Craddock, Barbara Brown Taylor and other inductive preaching artists. They are wonderful sermons, but they can lull us into writing a verbose essay instead of a sermon. Most of our time in seminary was spent writing papers for the eye. That’s fine, but a sermon is meant to be heard not read. Many preachers struggle with preaching because they prepare sermons like a written essay or term paper. It may read well, but it falls flat when preached. Sermons must be written for the ear. Sentences need to be shorter and active.

Pure lectionary preaching will not grow your church

Lectionary preaching is king in many mainline sermons. Makes sense. Seminary trained us to faithfully interpret scripture. The easiest way to do that is to begin with a text. The problem is I don’t know of a growing and thriving church led by a pure lectionary preacher. I am sure there are exceptions but I don’t know of any. Most listeners are drawn to sermons that address relevant topics. Many of your listeners are not dying to hear what the Bible has to say. You have to work harder than that. Create a desire in listeners to hear what the Bible has to say and then they will want to know more about the Bible.

You can’t appeal to logic alone

Seminary is largely a cerebral experience. Its purpose is to educate, shape theology, and expand biblical knowledge. This is good. Pastors should be practical theologians. However, preparing sermons should not just be a cerebral exercise. Effective sermons appeal to the heart as well as the mind. The latest psychological research shows that logic leads to conclusions and emotion leads to action. If you don’t want your listeners leaving your sermons in the sanctuary you must appeal to their hearts.

(As with anything, there are exceptions to these statements. Yes, there are preaching professors and seminaries who do prepare students well for the local church. And, yes, there are churches that are well suited for academic preaching. However, my experience is that both are exceptions and not the rule.)

Ready to preach your best sermon ever? Grab a copy of my book That’ll Preach! 5 Simple Steps to Your Best Sermon Ever from Abingdon Press.

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