As I recall, my first sermon was about eight minutes long with a 20-minute invitation, as I was sure everyone would respond in repentance to my proclamation. Needless to say, I had a lot to learn then — and still do. Here are some things I wish I’d known as a young preacher who first preached at age 16 and began full-time ministry at age 20:
- How I live my life matters as much as my study. That’s not to say that study doesn’t matter (see the next bullet points), but it’s a recognition that all of my study is for naught if my life invalidates the message. As a young preacher who grew up in a non-Christian home, I wrestled with walking fully with God in those days.
- My preaching must come out of my personal Bible study. It was far too easy as a young preacher to study only for sermons–or to study what others were preaching more than I studied my Bible. My preaching was hardly the overflow of my life.
- Commentaries can be helpful. Frankly, I didn’t even know that commentaries existed when I was a young pastor. I still fear that I sometimes spend too much time in the commentaries and not enough time in prayer and Bible study, but I’ve learned that I can learn much from others much wiser than I.
- It’s okay to ask for help with preaching. It seemed to me that asking others for help was a sign of spiritual immaturity, and I didn’t want to come across that way (and, to be honest, I found many pastors to be so competitive back then that I probably wrongly thought no one would help).
- It’s not nearly as impressive as I thought to use Hebrew and Greek words in my sermons. Back then, I really had no idea what the languages were about anyway–but the “smart people” I had heard preach always seemed to refer to them. What I didn’t realize was that simply saying the words seldom helped anyone understand the text.
- It’s tough to use somebody else’s illustrations. I tried to do that as a young preacher, primarily because I was reading others’ stories and hadn’t yet learned to watch for personal illustrations. I suspect, though, that my illustrations back then came across as forced and awkward.
- Good preaching explains the Word of God and helps hearers apply it. If I were to listen to my early sermons as a pastor, I think I’d find that I spent much time on application and far too little time on the text itself. I didn’t know then the balance that I think is necessary.
- People are inclined to remember what you wish they’d forget. For some reason, they remember your poorly-told joke, your misstated words, your angry moods, and your bad illustrations. None of us can fully avoid making these kinds of mistakes, but we can work harder at doing so.
- God is incredibly gracious to preachers. To be honest, I pray that God has destroyed by fire the sermons I preached as a young pastor. I have no idea why He uses any of us to proclaim His Word–but I’m more grateful now than ever for that opportunity.
What do you wish you’d known as a young preacher?