The #1 predictor of the growth of any church is the preaching ability of the pastor. The #1 predictor of the growth of any class is the teaching ability of the teacher. It is for this reason that I appeal to all of us, preachers and teachers to commit ourselves to life-long improvement in our communication skills. But, here is a tricky question: how do you improve your pastor's preaching? Is there anything you can do if you are in a church where the pastor's preaching, well, needs some improvement? Much in every way.
It all starts with attitude
If you are anything less than your pastor's biggest fan, it is not likely you will influence his preaching or anything else about him. The message of the gospel is that we change best in an atmosphere of grace, not one of law and condemnation. If your pastor does not feel lavish grace from you, it is not likely you will influence him. The Bible commands us to "Honor the officers of your church who work hard among you." 1 Thess. 5:12a (Living) If your attitude is not one of honor toward your pastor I have some other things to say, but let me just stop with, "you will never influence his preaching."
Assuming your attitude is super-positive, here are some things you can do.
Ask your pastor to teach a class on teaching
I recommend that all of us go through all of the following courses. I have been through them all, (except the last one) some of them twice.
I recommend that the pastor lead a course every year for teachers. If the pastor leads it, you are almost guaranteed a good crowd. And, his preaching will improve by leading and participating in the class. All of these courses are videos, so they require very little preparation on his part. This is important. Pastors are busy.
Offer to form a research team
A little known secret about the really great preachers is that many of them have research assistants. I knew one preacher of a mega-church who had two full-time and one part-time research assistants who did nothing but read books and hand him the notes. Do you think your pastor would benefit from that kind of support? You can likely provide it for free. Put together a research team of people who like to read. Sit down together with your pastor once a month and talk about what he will be preaching for the next couple of months. Brainstorm good books that the group could read. Let the pastor give them assignments as to what to research. Then, they can email him stories, facts, illustrations, etc. that will enhance his preaching. I for one would be honored to be on such a team.
I talked to a bi-vocational pastor once who told me he never bought books because he just didn't have money for books. This is like a farmer saying, "I just can't afford a tractor" or a carpenter saying, "I just can afford a hammer" or a dentist saying, "I just can't afford a drill; I will just use an ice pick" or a. . . you get the point (pun intended).
Books are the basic tool for the communicator. If you are not reading something now, you won't teach very well in coming weeks. We want to let people drink from a moving stream.
What was more important to Paul than his winter coat? Look and see: "When you come, be sure to bring the coat I left at Troas with Brother Carpus, and also the books, but especially the parchments." 2 Tim. 4:13 (Living)
If I were on the personnel committee of my church I would try to see that we bought my pastor every book he would read, every tape he would listen to and every conference he would attend. There are other limitations as to why he can't spend more time reading and studying, don't let money be one of them.
Many churches believe in the myth of the omni-competent pastor. We want a pastor to do everything. We want a warm, caring personality. We want a chaplain who is at the hospital every day--whether or not someone is there--just in case. We want a crackerjack administrator. We want a skilled evangelist. On and on...we want a pastor who can do it all. Only thing is, they don't exist, and, even if they did, you can't do everything. We all have 168 hours a week. No one ever created an extra one. The hour your pastor spends at the committee meeting, he can't spend in preparation. The time he spends at the hospital he can't spend reading. The time he spends counseling, he can't spend in prayer. Life is about choices. Make the choice that has the greatest likelihood of impacting the most people. Make the choice that has the greatest impact on the growth of the church. Make the choice of allowing your pastor to concentrate on the pulpit. Be the guy who says, "Our pastor doesn't have to attend that meeting; we can take care of that."
Catch him doing something right
You might think you could help your pastor get better if he would just let you tell him a thing or two about his preaching. Isn't it funny how easy it is to solve everyone else's problems? You might think this, but I'd invite you to think again.
You can occasionally say to your pastor, "Hey, I had a thought about something you could do better in your preaching." Occasionally. Especially if you have about a 10:1 ratio between that kind of comment and the "atta boys." (Many do it the other way around with 10 criticisms to every one complement. This gets old; trust me.)
You can also give your pastor correctives if he asks for them directly. My former pastor, Sam Shaw, now the pastor at Germantown Baptist, asked me to do this for him. In fact, he would get onto me if I didn't come up with something for him to make the sermon better. In my experience, however, this is pretty rare. (His sermons are available online, by the way. He is an excellent communicator.)
But, with these exceptions said, I would not recommend doing a lot of correcting of your pastors sermons. What you can do, however, is catch him doing something right. If he has a good illustration, or makes a salient point, bring it to his attention. It is especially useful if you point it out some time later. "I have really been thinking about what you said a few weeks ago about. . ." It is customary to say, "Good message this morning, pastor" and it has little effect. Send him an email on a Thursday a few weeks later and tell him you can't quit thinking about that illustration he used. I guarantee you it will motivate him to want to dig out some more great illustrations.
The importance of good preaching
Again: the #1 predictor of the growth of any church is the preaching ability of the pastor. Not his counseling ability or his administrative ability; it is his effectiveness in the pulpit.
However, I don't want to overstate the case. If your pastor is not Charles Stanley, you can still grow a church. Church growth is complex and dependant on lots of things. It really helps to have great preaching, but there are churches that grow without great preaching. Don't get into the blame game, or think it is impossible to grow your church if your pastor is not incredible in the pulpit. Still, preaching matters. It matters a lot.
The importance of this is sometimes missed because pastors of growing churches don't talk about it too much. They talk about methods and programs and principles. It sounds less than humble for them to say, "The reason our church has grown is that I am an incredible preacher." It may not be humble but it is true. It is more humble, but less accurate to say the church grew because they were purpose driven. Show me a church with a clear purpose-driven strategy and lousy preaching and I will show you a church that is floundering. The success of Saddleback is not so much about the Purpose-driven philosophy as it is about the fact that Rick and an incredible communicator. Willowcreek. Same thing.
Here are five ways to improve your pastor's preaching: