In our effort to become better preachers we often learn from the best preachers in our generation. We watch the superstars and take notes gleaning all we can from them. This, by the way, is a good thing. While you should never seek to copy someone else or become them, you can always learn a great deal from studying best practices. But we have a lot to learn not only from our contemporaries, but also from those who have gone before. One leader and preacher who we can learn a great deal from is Paul.
Paul, the Apostle, was not only a top notch theologian who wrote a huge part of the New Testament. He was also a missionary, pastor, church-planter and movement leader. We can gain a lot from watching his life and ministry. Here are 5 practical things preachers can learn from Paul:
1. Paul relied on the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The discussion of whether churches should carefully plan out their ministry strategy or rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance creates a false dichotomy. It leads some to assert that if you truly rely on the Holy Spirit you will not make plans. But rather, you will show up and have faith that God will lead you in the moment. Those who take this view tend to view planning and strategy as less spiritual and less faith-filled endeavors. On the other side are those who say that you must plan every detail in advance and carefully think through the strategy. These people sometimes believe that those who fail to plan are not being responsible to their calling.
This is a false dichotomy. Those of us who wish to take part in God’s mission should absolutely do both planning and relying on the Holy Spirit. We should carefully plan and be prepared for anything and everything that might come up. At the same time, we must realize that we are doing supernatural work that needs supernatural intervention to be effective. We should pray like we mean it and rely heavily on the Holy Spirit. Paul set an example as one who both worked relentlessly and had an utter reliance on the Holy Spirit’s leading. He said in Colossians 1:28-29 “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
Our preaching must always be a result of both relentless work and dedicated prayer.
2. Paul was into forming churches, not just converts. I love this about Paul. He always focused on forming gospel communities that form gospel communities. The gospel moves forward through the local church. No one is converted to remain an island but rather to connect in community in a church body. Our preaching is one of the best tools we have to build up the body of Christ by leading people into community.
3. Paul adapted his message to his listeners. Without ever compromising the truth of the gospel, Paul was winsomely in tune with the culture. He sought to be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23) so that he might reach as many people with the gospel as possible. This is a practice we must adapt as preachers. A lot preachers focus on the content asking themselves “Did I say all of the words that I needed to say?” A better question to ask focuses more on the listener “Did they hear what they needed to hear so they can do something with it?” Paul understood something that most of us have a hard time grasping: communication is about the listener, not the communicator.
If you preach in a way that makes sense to you at the expense of your listeners, you have not done your job as a preacher. If you preach to win the approval of your seminary profs, then you can be sure that most of your listeners probably aren’t tracking. Be willing to communicate in a way that it is accessible to everyone in your audience.
4. Paul focused his message on Jesus. We talk about a lot of stuff. We could stand to talk about Jesus more than all the other things we talk about. Paul was hyper-focused on Jesus. His life was personally changed by him and he wanted others to know “Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
5. Paul worked in teams. Paul models something incredibly important to ministry success: partnership. He refers often to co-laborers in the gospel. He was not alone and neither should we try to do the work of ministry alone. I think the prep and planning that goes into preaching is best done in teams. You can read my thoughts on that here.
What else can we learn from Paul?