Continuous Improvement

Fearless leader Dave hath lamented, again, that we contributors are not contributing as abundantly as we need. He’s right. I would plead busy but in truth, I have to plead hesitant. I’m working, offline, on a few thoughts on issues raised around here, but I’m just not sure I’m up for minding that comment stream. I do, though, have this to say.

Recently, I read a book to review for Kregel Ministry. It was One Year to Better Preaching. This little volume contained more than 52 exercises to strengthen your preaching skills. I’m not going to give you a full review of the text here, because I have done that at my blog and because we’re mainly interested here in promoting books whose profits support our charity, the Ed Stetzer Foundation for Ministers Who Cannot Grow Facial Hair. (The IRS continues to hold up our application for tax-free status. I blame President Ford.)

What reading this book and beginning to implement some of the suggestions raised for me was this question: In what areas do I, as a pastor/teacher/preacher, need to work on continuous improvement? It should go without saying that I am well aware of my need to continuously walk closer to Jesus as a disciple, a husband, and a father. Let me say that, however, for those who want to throw that up before considering the rest of this: I am well aware that my Lord has the right to a better disciple, my wife the right to a better husband, and my children the right to a better father. I am striving to be that.

Now, back on track. Those of us who are preachers and teachers of God’s Word, who are servants of His Church and of local churches, have certain skills that are part of what we do. Many of us have had formal, or at least structured, training for the tasks we undertake. We learned in classrooms or at the feet of masters. Some may have been blessed with both opportunities. Others have learned more from books than from anyone else–which is fine, too. (At least I hope so, personally.)

Yet there often comes a point where we “enter the work” and count ourselves as trained. We may have one area that we still spend time on, but how often do we just ‘lean back’ and think we are past growing in any area? This may not mean you think you’re perfect: you may know you’ll never preach as well as Adrian Rogers, and you may have just decided to give up on improving. After all, they keep coming back, so we must be good enough, right?

I want to challenge you: we are not good enough. Few of us would want doctors that have not read up on current medicine as doctors. We would not want our children or grandchildren to learn math from someone who last looked at a math book 20 years ago. The list goes on and on. Practically every job, volunteer or paid, out there has a component of continuous training and improvement.

Except when it comes to most of us, that training and improvement is voluntary.  We can go through every week of preaching and simply get duller…and duller…and, well you get the point.

So I want to issue this challenge to you, to add alongside Mike Leake’s challenge to pray for your wife and Dave Miller’s Fit Pastor Challenge: sharpen your tools. Many of you who serve churches feel you are maxed out, but carve out some time to get better at what you do instead of just doing what you do. Here are some basic suggestions:

1. Dust off an old skill: you should be reading the Bible daily already, right? Why not battle through one of you original languages to do a verse a day in your reading? Maybe it means you can’t read 15 chapters a day of Scripture, but bring back your understanding of the original languages.

2. Sharpen a constantly used skill: many times, we who preach and teach on Sundays have little opportunities to learn by seeing. We’re preaching while great preachers are preaching, teaching while great teachers are teaching. So find a different way. Don’t just listen to the Doug Hibbard Sermon Podcast and wish you were him. Instead, grab a short book on communication and work through it slowly. The aforementioned One Year to Better Preaching is a good thought, but so are any books on communication.

3. Set something aside to truly have a time of sharpening. Honestly, how many of us claim to be busy beyond imagining but still know who won the ball game last night? One inning, one quarter, one rerun of Sportscenter a week is a small price to pay to find a deeper understanding of time management. Who know? You might manage your time well enough to get that quarter back.

None of this should substitute for true spiritual growth. Nothing is a replacement for drawing near to the Risen Christ whom we all proclaim. But there are practical considerations throughout Scripture: Noah knew how to shape a board, Peter knew how to catch a fish. Strengthen the church by admitting you need to grow and then by growing.




  1. Daniel says

    Good thoughts and necessary encouragement. For about a month I’ve been walking daily and listening to sermons while I walk. This has helped me spiritually, as well as making me more self-aware in how I shape my sermons.