A Key Step in Learning to Preach
If you have ever taken a preaching course you have likely experienced one of the most challenging steps toward learning to preach: the dreaded in class sermon delivery.
Let me describe this portion of a sermon class. It is the part of the class where the students have to begin to put into practice what they have been learning. In other words, they must get up and preach a sermon. For some, this is an easy and exciting opportunity. For others, it is a moment of fear and terror. Despite this fear, preaching in a context that is not the pulpit is a key step in learning to preach.
1) The classroom is a safe place to try
When you preach, you are exposing yourself. Regardless of how objective you try to be in your sermons, you are standing in front of people and talking to them. It is difficult to separate the preacher from the sermon and so the nature of preaching is that it is an experience in vulnerability. In the classroom you have a safe place to experiment, to give it your best shot, and even to fail. There is a great value in having a safe place to explore your preaching that isn't directly tied to your responsibilities as a preacher.
2) Your peers are in the same boat
I tend to get into my head worrying about what people think of me. I think this is common which means that many of us are too busy worrying about what people think of us to actually spend time quietly criticising others in our head. When preaching in the context of learning everyone is on the same playing field. Yes, some people may have more natural skills or abilities but we are all practising and discovering what preaching is like. Truthfully, everyone is probably dealing with some anxiety, some fear, and some joy. In sharing your preaching with peers, you have a support system who understand and share your desires.
3) You will get unbiased feedback
As painful as it is to acknowledge, the structure of church life in North America puts a huge amount of value on the quality of preaching. Regardless of whether this is a good thing or not (I think not), in this context preaching is constantly judged. These judgements are not always helpful. They may lack clarity, they may represent the expected response, and, unfortunately, they may be motivated by situations external to your sermon. In this environment, it is hard to identify meaningful feedback from all the rest. Preaching outside of the pulpit, in a classroom or other setting, gives you the opportunity to get feedback that is based on your preaching and not on other matters.
It is wise for a preacher to practice their preaching outside the context of a preaching event. It is a key step in improving your abilities as a preacher.