Very few good preachers begin as good preachers. Of the twenty or so practice preaching sermons that I listen to every semester, maybe one or two students have it all together: good intro, accurate exegesis, clear structure, appropriate illustrations, personal application, voice variation, body language, etc. Most have a lot of practice preaching ahead of them (don’t we all!).

And that word “practice” sometimes sticks in people’s throats. Practice preaching? Is that not a bit unholy or unspiritual?

Or maybe, practicing exegesis and related disciplines is OK, but surely not the speaking part. I mean, I don’t want to be an actor in the pulpit, do I!

No, we certainly don’t want to be actors. And if we are only putting on a certain voice for the pulpit, then that is indeed unnatural and pretty close to acting.

So what’s the solution? How do I improve my public speaking without putting on an act?

The answer is to improve your speaking in every day speaking.

If you have a monotone voice, then try consciously varying it up and down in one-to-one conversations (that’s what I’ve tried to do). If you have a quiet voice, try experimenting with different volumes at the dinner table. If you tend to give every word the same weight, try emphasizing important words the next time you talk to someone. If you tend to talk too fast, practice slowing down and pausing in normal life, etc.

In other words, practice preaching, by practicing when you are not preaching. That way, over time, these changes become natural, they become part of normal you, and acting is kept out of the pulpit.

I know someone who carried this a bit far and eventually ended up preaching at people in ordinary conversation. That was extremely painful!

So, yes, there are dangers to practicing. We must also avoid turning away from dependence upon the Holy Spirit and trusting in gifts or “wisdom of words.”

I don’t go along with everything in this article, but Peter Bubriski captures the essence of what I’m trying to say here:

Think of practicing speaking skills as practicing a sport. With a sport, you’re not pretending to be someone else. You are training your body and your mind to achieve feats of skill — building your muscle memory with drills and repetition…

…We speak of some athletes as artists in their field because they exercise their skills with a mastery that appears effortless. That is where the art and sport of great communication skills come together. As either an athlete or an artist, you have to practice over and over and over again so that you’re not thinking about the people in the stands watching your brilliant shot, not thinking about the people in the audience hearing your brilliant words, but just thinking: here’s how I always use my instrument when the “ball” comes my way.

With preaching, practice will never make perfect. But it may help get rid of some of the imperfections that impair effective preaching. As a preacher, that’s my responsibility. The rest, thankfully, is up to God.

  • Arleneveenstra

    good thoughts….as one sitting and listening in the can be very difficult to sit and listen to ‘pulpit or prayer voices’ that sound so unnatural…

  • Brad

    I’ve been struggling with verbal pauses. Someone counted 43 “ums” on me in 17 minutes recently. Thank you for this.

  • Nancy Guthrie

    Oh, it is painful but so profitable to listen to audio and watch video of myself teaching to hear overused expressions, misused words, irritating tones of voice, subtle audience manipulation, un-engaging pace.While it is surely even less spiritual than practicing, I have studied a few comedians for how they tell stories in a way that draws people in. I don’t want to borrow the content and my goal is not to be entertaining, but I have picked up some insights into how to create connection with listeners.