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One Year to Better Preaching

June 4, 2014

One Year to Better Preaching

Here’s a recommended preaching resource for you: One Year to Better Preaching: 52 Exercises to Hone Your Skills, by Daniel Overdorf (Kregel, 2013).

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the inspiring Preaching in an Age of Distraction. Whereas that book took a largely big picture approach, building on itself chapter by chapter, One Year to Better Preaching contains 52 exercises (plus a few “Bonus Exercises”) that give preachers a tangible, nuts-and-bolts set of practices to engage.

Overdorf wants to help preachers “sharpen preaching skills.” Just “an hour or two of effort” is required for most of these practices, so it’s an easy book to pick up, get right into, and use right away in preparing next week’s sermon.

The 52 exercises can be weekly ones for a year, or can easily be spread out over more than a year. Overdorf wisely suggests that preachers could focus on exercises that help them overcome their particular preaching weaknesses.

To try to achieve a “process similar to cross-training,” the 52 exercises are grouped into eight categories:

  1. Prayer and Preaching
  2. Bible Interpretation
  3. Understanding Listeners
  4. Sermon Construction
  5. Illustration and Application
  6. Word Crafting
  7. The Preaching Event
  8. Sermon Evaluation

Exercises include an introduction and setup to that exercise, a description of the exercise itself, an “I Tried It” testimonial section, and “Resources for Further Study.” A preacher could easily make the benefits of this book stretch out beyond a year.

To take just one example, Exercise Two, “Balance Your Biblical Diet,” suggests that preachers be sure they are preaching from both Testaments and from a variety of literary genres. Overdorf suggests charting out recent sermons to see where they fall, and shows a chart of his last 175 sermons in various biblical genres as an example. As balance in this sense is one of my preaching priorities, I appreciated this section.

Overdorf also makes the welcome suggestion that even a preacher’s illustrations be well-balanced:

Additionally, you may consider charting your recent illustrations. What aspects of life have you used most to illustrate biblical truth? How many illustrations have come from the world of sports? From your family? How many stories have you told from the Civil War, or from popular movies? How often have you quoted Tozer, Bonhoeffer, or your favorite contemporary authors?

Other exercises that I found helpful (and have tried put to use in the pulpit) have been: “Show, Don’t Tell” (on phrasing), “Have Listeners Evaluate You,” “Listen to a Storyteller,” and especially, “Craft Evocative Words.”

Despite how truly thorough the book is, one lack I noticed was any mention of the lectionary. For as many preachers as use the lectionary, some reference to it would have been useful. Or especially for preachers who don’t ever use the lectionary, suggesting they at least try it for a while would have been a good exercise.

One Year to Better Preaching is the kind of book you put right on your desk (not your bookshelf) where you can reference it repeatedly. I’m looking forward to continuing to mine its riches in the weeks and months of preaching ahead.

Thanks to Kregel for the review copy, offered with no expectation as to the content of this review. Find the book on Amazon here (affiliate link), at Kregel’s site here, and check out a pdf sample of the book here.

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