If your church has given you the title of “Youth Pastor,” “Student Pastor,” “Children’s Pastor,” or “_____ Pastor” then your church has called you to be a competent preacher whether you realize it or not. In 1 Timothy 3 the one competency Paul expects of any elder is that they are “able to teach.” The role of a student pastor is multifaceted, encompassing a wide range of responsibilities and skills. Yet, at the heart of this calling lies the same calling that marks all pastoral ministry—the task of preaching God’s Word.
As student pastors, we must constantly seek to grow in our preaching abilities, ensuring that our messages are both faithful to Scripture and engaging to our audience. Many people treat having a staff pastor who is able to preach as a bonus, but Paul considers it a necessity. In this article, we will explore five practical tips for becoming a better preacher as a student pastor.
1. Ask for Feedback (and Listen)
One of the most effective ways to improve as a preacher is to actively seek feedback from others. This may include soliciting input from fellow pastors, mentors, or even students themselves. By inviting constructive criticism and being willing to listen, we create opportunities for growth and refinement in our preaching. Invite people to listen to you that you trust and are prone to listen to. Ask them for real feedback and not simply affirmation of your gifts.
When asking for feedback, it is essential to approach this process with humility and a teachable spirit. Recognize that it is an opportunity to learn and grow, not merely to receive praise or validation. You’ll never get better surrounded by people who are overly impressed with you. As you receive feedback, be open to seeing things a different way, trying new things, and implementing suggestions during future opportunities.
2. Listen to Good Preaching
Another valuable tip for becoming a better preacher is to regularly listen to good preaching. By exposing ourselves to skilled expositors of the Word, we can receive insights and ideas that we may not have considered otherwise. Pay attention to the structure, illustrations, and delivery of these sermons, taking note of elements that resonate with you, but also what resonates with other people.
While listening to good preaching, be sure to maintain discernment and avoid the temptation to simply mimic another preacher’s style, content, voice, and mannerisms. I can still remember my first few years of trying to simply be “Great-Value John Piper.” Instead, seek out principles and techniques that can be adapted to your unique voice and your context with your students. You can do this better by not just listening to the one preacher you may be tempted to copy, but by listening to ten to twenty preachers you can synthesize information from. This practice will not only help you grow as a preacher but also expose you to a wealth of biblical wisdom and insight that will devotionally bless you.
3. Read Broadly
Developing a robust and diverse reading habit is another crucial aspect of growing as a preacher. As a student pastor, there can sometimes be a temptation to not read because people tell you that your job is to “just teach the basics.” While that assumption is not true, even if it was the point still stands. By reading broadly, we expand our knowledge and understanding, even of the basics, which in turn enriches our preaching. A well-rounded reading list might include theological works, church history, biographies, and even good fiction to shape your imagination.
As you read, take note of compelling arguments, turns of phrase, or illustrations that could be incorporated into your sermons. Additionally, reading widely helps to sharpen your critical thinking skills and deepen your understanding of culture, beauty, and story enabling you to better connect with any audience. Reading is formative and a major way God shapes anyone regardless of their position. Carve out time in your schedule to “take up and read” (regularly)!
4. Take Every Opportunity You Can to Preach
Experience is often the best teacher, and preaching is no exception. To grow as a preacher, it is essential to seize every opportunity you can to practice your craft. This may include preaching at nursing homes, prisons, or other small gatherings in addition to your regular student ministry responsibilities. You should never consider any opportunity to small or too unimportant.
Each preaching opportunity presents unique challenges and learning experiences, allowing you to refine your skills and adapt to different contexts. If you can preach an engaging exposition in a nursing home you’ve conquered what many great preachers never could. By embracing these opportunities, you will not only gain valuable experience but also develop resilience and flexibility as a preacher. I know that the thought of more prep, more travel, and more responsibility may seem daunting, but each opportunity will grow you in new ways and allow you to serve more people.
5. Preach as Well as You Can at Student Ministry
Lastly, it is crucial to give your best effort when preaching to your student ministry. Student ministry provides a unique context in which to hone your skills in illustration and contextualization. Student are people of story and metaphor, making them an ideal audience for honing your ability to craft compelling illustrations. Moreover, students inhabit a distinct cultural environment that demands you become adept at contextualizing your message in a way that is relatable, applicable, and engaging.
Resist the temptation to treat student ministry as a lesser priority or a mere stepping stone to a “more significant” preaching ministry. Instead, recognize the immense value and eternal impact of faithfully preaching the Word of God to your students. It is easy to fall into the trap of mailing it in for your Wednesday Nights out of a desire for more, feeling like it doesn’t matter, or thinking that no one is paying attention. This could not be further from the truth. Every word you say is indelibly shaping the souls of everyone listening. All preaching, no matter where it is, can and is used by God. By preaching as well as you can at student ministry, you not only serve your students but also develop skills that will benefit your ministry for years to come.