I loved seminary. I really did.
There is no substitute for on-the-job training and doing ministry in a real church, but there was no better way to learn the Bible. Those Bible classes were great. Though I have a Masters of Divinity, there were a few things I didn’t learn about preaching in seminary. It could have been my unique experience, but here are five things I didn’t learn in seminary about preaching.
1. You need to preach like YOU. I learned a lot about Bible exposition, preparing an outline and staying true to the text. All of these things are very important, but I didn’t learn how to preach using my unique voice. We studied other great preachers, but preaching like someone else caused me to fall flat. My experiences, style and failures are unique – I can’t learn those from anyone else. Finding my own unique voice happened outside of the classroom.
2. Your points are forgotten. I grew up in a church that loved alliteration, and I learned how to craft a powerful outline in seminary. But nobody told me that no one would remember all of those alliterated points. It took me a long time to learn this principle, and I wasted a lot of time covering information when I should have been inspiring with stories.
3. Your audience doesn’t care. When I was in seminary, I bought into the belief that people would come to church because what happened there was so important. In reality, people don’t think about church much throughout the week. And people don’t have built-in care when it comes to the sermon. Just because I think about it all week doesn’t mean they do. People don’t care about a topic just because it’s in the Bible. And they don’t listen to me just because I’m the preacher standing behind a pulpit. No preaching class taught me how to effectively connect with the congregation and connect with them during the first five minutes of a sermon.
4. Be engaging and funny. In seminary, I was taught how to be faithful to the text. And that’s important. But I didn’t learn how to be engaging and funny. After all, being funny and engaging doesn’t seem very spiritual. But humor is a universal language – a smile communicates in nearly every culture. I learned a ton about this from watching other skilled communicators, including comedians and business presenters.
5. You need to raise up other communicators. Seminary was all about learning to preach. But one of the MOST important tasks of preachers is to build up another generation. I cut my ministry teeth as a youth pastor, and got to speak to adults on low-attendance, holiday weekends. My pastors taught on Sunday morning and Sunday nights, and only gave up the pulpit to traveling evangelists. I would have loved the opportunity to be mentored, but it never seemed like a priority. Today, the preachers I admire don’t see themselves as the sole funnel for God’s voice, but intentionally raise up other communicators.
Those are five lessons about preaching I didn’t learn in seminary. Some of them I learned the hard way, and some of them I’m still learning.