There's no such thing as 'practice preaching'

A few days ago I was talking with a friend who is learning to preach. As part of his learning, the guys involved preach to one another on set passages, and then sit down and talk about how well they did, what they could improve, and so on.

To my recollection, I have done this once (many years ago) and decided never to do it again. Why?

I begin with the understanding that preaching is only preaching when you stand there with authority. It’s not your own authority, it’s derived from the word. But you still have to regard what you’re doing as delivering God’s word into the present context. That is how I understand the force of Peter’s encouragement to speak “as one who speaks oracles of God” (1 Peter 4.11). So the preacher has to have the correct self-understanding. Now, I grant you, there’s room for error here. The preacher might think that in order to speak the oracles of God he needs to adopt a foreign tone, or work it up. But it seems to me that despite the possible mistakes and errors a preacher can fall into, the most important thing is that he has a deep-seated conviction that he’s speaking God’s word. If he’s not delivering it in that way, with that conviction, and with that authority, I doubt he’s preaching at all.

So when we think about trainee preachers gathering together to preach to one another, and then offer critique, it seems to me that this is training in how not to preach. The guy stands up with his material and delivers it in the most technically correct way he can (right intro and flow, strong and clear points, good illustrations, perfect landing). But the artificial environment makes it near-impossible to stand there and deliver a message with the authority of God and his word, the very thing that makes it preaching in the first place.

The result can be that the trainees are technically capable, but they don’t really know what it means to speak God’s oracles. So, as I said, they’re being trained in how not to preach.

I would suggest that the only way a person can learn to preach is by preaching; not for critique, but for edification; not focussed on technique, but on delivering an actual message.

Now, I don’t want to set up a false dichotomy here. It’s possible to learn to preach well (with a mind to technique) and receive critique after the event, whilst also preaching a message with the necessary authority and boldness. But I doubt it’s possible to do this with a bunch of mates who are gathered for the sole purpose of offering you feedback, and I would reckon that this is counterproductive in the long-run if the goal is to train an actual, bone fide preacher.