In preparation for teaching “Introduction to Preaching,” I’ve been giving a lot of thought to whether the act of preaching is an art or a science. If preaching is a science, then, as the teacher, I need to convey information to the student. If preaching is an art, then I need to provide the students as much time as possible to practice the art.
My background in the Martial Arts helped me put a choke hold on this topic. Before moving to Seminary, I owned and operated several Karate Schools. In order to successfully teach a move, I used several teaching techniques. First, I would give them the information by explaining the technique. Second, I would show them how to perform the move properly. Third, I would watch them perform the technique and provide feedback to help them improve. Once they had the technique down, I would positively reinforce them with the appropriate level of praise for their efforts and move on to another skill.
The same philosophy applies to preaching. Preaching is not just a science. I knew a professor who had excellent knowledge in the area of preaching, but when standing in front of an audience, he simply couldn’t do it. I have known others with natural gifts to entertain and captivate audiences who lacked a proper understanding of what preaching should accomplish. They merely entertained the audience with moral presentations. Preaching requires both knowledge and practice–it is both art and science.
My class will spend the first half of the semester learning information and watching. The text book they read will convey information, the lecture will present similar material in a different way, and the class will watch preachers to see a good sermon modeled for them. In the second half of the semester, each student will put that knowledge into practice. While the student preaches in front of the class, I will sit in the booth recording feedback onto the DVD of his sermon so that when the student watches his work, he will have my comments on what he did well and on what needs improving.
In thinking through these matters, two further conclusions arose. First, no matter how good a Karate student became he still needed practice, and if he stopped practicing, his skills deteriorated. The same holds true for preachers. No matter how well we preach the word, we can improve. We improve not to add power to God’s Word but so that we do not put up unnecessary barriers, so that we communicate clearly, and so that we offer our sermon as an offering to the Lord. The eternal destinies of men and women hang in the balance so we must take every sermon we preach seriously.
Second, no matter how bad your first attempt was, keep working at it. I’m seen some pretty bad kicks in my day and some pretty uncoordinated students that developed into good Martial Artists. Perseverance and hard work can overcome many obstacles. You see it in sports all the time. The athlete with a little less natural ability but who has worked hard all the way through ends up successful while a more talented person coasts and never reaches his full potential. Natural ability certainly does help but most of us do not begin as incredibly gifted preachers. For us, hard work and practice will help us to improve so that we can clearly communicate God’s Word.