15 Ways to Improve Your Preaching or Teaching

I’m a professor who doesn’t like course evaluations and a preacher who doesn’t enjoy sermon critiques. So, I’m leery of telling others how to improve their preaching or teaching. Nevertheless, here are 15 ways (some that are perhaps surprising) to improve your communicating the gospel:

  1. Assume you need to improve. If you genuinely believe you have no room for improvement, ask others until you find someone who’s honest enough to help you (in fact, that person might tell you that you sometimes come across as arrogant).
  2. Consider the last time you intentionally improved your approach. If your last intentional improvement occurred years ago, or if you can’t remember when it was, you may have become stagnant as a communicator.
  3. Read the Bible and pray every day. This suggestion is basic, but it matters. Preachers and teachers who read the Scriptures only to prepare a lesson have reduced the Bible to a textbook for others. Those who communicate without praying regularly are operating in their own power.
  4. Forsake sin in your life. Again, it’s foundational yet imperative. Sin drains our passion for God and robs us of our power for communicating the gospel. Open the Scriptures with a clean heart, though, and it’s pure joy.
  5. Spend more time with your congregation. Your job is to teach the Word, but it’s more than that: it’s to teach people the Word. In fact, it’s a particular people: your class or your congregation. Know them so well that you can help them apply the Word to their lives.
  6. Enlist a prayer team. Don’t assume others are praying regularly for you as you preach or teach. Enlist prayer warriors who will intercede specifically for your holiness, your preparation, and your teaching. Know you will be proclaiming the Word under the power of God.
  7. Study preaching and teaching. Search for online preaching or teaching classes. Read books about preaching and teaching (e.g., http://goo.gl/s4KAGH). Even veteran preachers and teachers can usually learn from reviewing these materials.
  8. Listen to other preachers. If you think you preach or teach too long, listen to someone who is more concise. Learn the value of stories and illustrations by considering what you remember from a sermon. Take note of good introductions and conclusions. Absorb from others without trying to become somebody else.
  9. Invite others to help you prepare. Enlist others to walk with you as you put together your sermon or lesson. Invite them to critique your exegesis and your proposed outline. Preach the sermon to them first. If time won’t allow you to take this approach each week, try it at least once a month.
  10. Simply and clearly answer the “what,” “so what,” and “now what” questions. What does the biblical text say? Why does that truth matter? As a listener, what am I to do with this teaching? If you as the preacher or teacher can’t answer these questions, neither will your hearers.
  11. Practice. Read your manuscript or outline again and again. Teach it in your head – or to the wall . . . or your infant . . . or your dog . . . or to the air – multiple times. Know the material so well that you can connect easily with your audience when teaching it.
  12. Do immediate reflection. As soon as possible after teaching or preaching, jot down some notes. What worked well? What needs to be changed? Make notes while your teaching is hot in your mind.
  13. Listen to and watch your own sermons or lessons. For the sake of communicating the gospel better, become the audience for your own teaching or preaching. And, if you discover no room for improvement, go back to suggestion #1 above and invite others to listen to your message with you.
  14. Invite unchurched folks to listen to your sermons or lessons. Ask an unchurched friend or unbeliever to critique your teaching. Find out if he or she understands your points. Determine how often you use Christian jargon. See if your friend sees your teaching as applicable. Give it a try – your friend might even turn to Jesus!
  15. Take care of yourself physically. Eat properly. Sleep well. Take your days off. Go on your vacation. An exhausted, out of shape preacher or teacher is not a good witness for the transforming power of the gospel.

What other suggestions would you make?

Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.


Posted on June 11, 2015

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • John Lawless says on

    We have talked before, hope the family is doing well. I have heard preachers and teachers that have a great message but their delivery technique is so bad it is distracting. I suggest finding someone to help with your technique and let God guide you in your content. One good source is Toastmasters International. I joined 3 years ago and it has helped my delivery and my teaching is much better (my wife says it has so it must be true).

  • Considering the purpose of the article I can understand the content. However, I would be cautious of the need to consistently concern myself with the need to “improve”. Eventually, if we keep this up (no matter hard we try to focus on the Gospel), it’s going to be about us. That said, the best way we can improve our preaching the Gospel is to simply preach the Gospel to ourselves—everyday. Once again, I understand the need for clarity and even professionalism. But knowing that sin can be creeping behind every good effort of improvement and how easily entangled we can become in our sin, it’s imperitave that we preach Good News to ourselves.

  • Michael Karpf says on

    I’m 65 years old and going back to seminary for my D.Min in Advanced Expository Preaching. It’s never too late to learn something to make me a better preacher. Thank you for your excellent suggestions


    I’m a 60 year old United Methodist minister. Speaking is my gift, or at least it was until I thought I knew it all. I quit growing. Now I’m back, learning everyday. If you’re not growing, eventually it will start showing.

    Jeff Taylor

  • Steve Stutzman says on

    Great list!

    Really glad you mentioned the last point. I have a tendency to work late on Saturday for my sermons on Sunday. But after a while, there’s diminishing returns if I get little sleep.

  • First, tell people what they need to hear. Next, pay attention to what is happening in the world when you write the sermon. Lastly, learn what you can about human nature. Too few pastors seem to understand human nature or if they do, they pretend not to. Jesus understood human nature and answered people’s questions. Sometimes all you need to do is explain the Gospel portion and then sit down. You don’t always need a long conclusion and an altar call. Everyone will hear the explanation a bit differently anyway. Don’t tell people what to conclude, just let them think about.

  • I would add a word of caution about #9. Some people are obsessive critics, and finding fault gives them feelings of superiority. If you enlist someone like that to critique your sermons, you’ll only frustrate yourself. You also don’t want your sermon analyzed by someone who thinks you can do no wrong, because that will only build up your ego. Make sure the critic is someone you can trust to tell the truth – for better or worse.

  • Rev. Dr. Allen T. Cherry says on

    All of these suggestions might be helpful, but I did not see where we should listen to what God might have to say. Sometimes you might be called upon to preach at a short notice so we need to be prepared at all times. That has happened to me two or three times.

  • Chuck,
    Great words and checklist. #1 is wonderful to reflect on and also add that times and culture changes so rapidly, I have to constantly reflect on how we adapt the timeless message of the Bible to our situation. I must ask how to I keep up with and combat the moral and intellectual shifting sands of relativism in our media age. Straight propositional preaching without apologetics does bring the same impact it used to in the hearer’s life. The younger generation seems to be fairly inoculated against any application in a three points and a poem (whether by worldview or the distraction of social media). I find myself looking for new ways to communicate truth so it does not get relegated to “opinion.”

    #5 and #9 Go together with #1. To get better at reaching the people before us, we have to walk with them and work with them. What makes perfect sense to seminary graduate or even our seasoned members can be very different that what the younger people catch.
    Thank you for the challenge and wisdom.

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