“Why are you talking like that?” That’s what my preaching professor asked me the first time I preached in his class. “Why don’t you talk like yourself?”
That was my introduction to finding my own voice as a preacher, and it was a good question. “Why don’t you talk like yourself?” Living in a time when you can pretty much go hear any preacher any time you want (and so can the people in our congregation), it’s easy to hear a lot of really awesome, really successful preachers and want to be like them. Our thinking goes, “if it works for them, it surely is going to work for me,” and maybe it will–for a little while. But I don’t think that’s what God created and built me for as a preacher. I don’t think God is satisfied with that, and we shouldn’t be either.
So, how do we find our own voice as a preacher? Well, I’m not 100% sure because I’m still trying to figure this thing out as well, and I think this is probably a lifetime sort of process, but I do know a few places to start:
Don’t copy others people’s sermons
If you are trying to figure out your own voice as a preacher, the worst thing you can do is constantly copy other people’s sermons. How are you supposed to figure out your own voice if you never give it a chance to get out?
It’s ok to use other people’s content every once in awhile (if you give them credit of course). Maybe you were super busy, or it goes with the series you’re in, or you’re on a preaching team and you all work on it together, but don’t tell their stories as if they’re your own. It’s definitely ok to take points from other sermons and use them, and then fill in your own content and stories. Everybody takes content from somewhere else. BUT, if you’re trying to find your own voice, try to do without copying other people.
Experiment with styles. Play around with whether or not you prefer preaching points or if you like preaching more of a narrative style, or go between the two. Keep trying things out until you find the one that suits you best, but don’t copy other people’s sermons.
Figure out which sermons you like to hear the best
This may sound like a contradiction to the last point, but it’s not. Whatever sermons you like to hear are probably the kind of sermons you’ll be the most passionate about preaching, and the more passionate you are about preaching a sermon, the more you’re likely to be yourself.
So think about those sermons that really get you going. Think about those preachers that you love to listen to, and study the way they preach, not their exact sermons, or even their content, but their structure and style, and then apply that to your own context and calling.
Develop a system
Once you start to figure out a little bit of what your voice might be, develop your own system of preparation and delivery. Some people start every sermon right away with scripture, some like to start with a story, some have specific takeaway points at the end, and others are trying to make you feel something. Whatever you figure out for yourself, make it a system.
I start every sermon with some sort of introduction to get people interested in what we’re talking about, to give the “why they should listen”, and to get people connected with me. So, when I’m preparing my sermon, I always know I’m going to develop that then get into the what God has to say about it (by the way, this comes straight from one of my favorite preachers, Andy Stanley, but I have my own way of doing his structure).
If you have a system, then you always stick to what you do and know the best. It’s not that you can’t veer from that, it’s just that it keeps you grounded in who you are.
Listen to yourself and evaluate
Every preacher knows this is important, but how often do you do it? There are all kinds of evaluation tools to help you in this, and you can always ask others, but if you’re anything like me, you are your own biggest critic.
When you’re evaluating, don’t just listen for content, listen for delivery…listen to hear if you recognize yourself and your voice in the sermon. Ask questions like: do I really talk like that in real life; are those stories personal or are they all “preacher stories”; was my voice strained by the end of the sermon (if it is, you’re probably talking in a way that’s not natural to you); and was that a sermon I would like to listen to?
Then also, talk to spiritual mentors and coaches who know who you really are and can help identify if you’re being true to your own voice.
This is a no-brainer, but ultimately, it’s God who created you, God who called you, and it’s God who will show you the kind of preacher He’s created you to be. So don’t leave out the Holy Spirit in this process.
Take it seriously. Fast. Pray. Seek out who God has created you to be, and then be that person and preacher and rock it!