Martin Luther, in his Table Talk, lists properties and virtues that “a good preacher should have.”
- Teach systematically.
- A ready wit
- A good voice
- A good memory
- Know how to make an end [conclusion].
- Be sure of [your] doctrine.
- Venture and engage body and blood, wealth and honor, in the Word.
- Suffer to be mocked and jeered of everyone.
I think this is a decent list–it’s not exhaustive. He has a lot more to say on the subject. Here are some brief comments:
First on his list is a commitment to a scheme of preaching. Especially if you plan to preach week after week–you should know where you’ve been and where you’re going. Plan ahead.
Second, preaching requires wit–this is the necessary intelligence (and training) to accurately and faithfully interpret and apply the Holy Scriptures. Wit may also apply to your sense of humor. Can you appropriately and skillfully deploy humor to enhance engagement, drop defenses, and support the thrust of the passage?
Third, it’s important to be well-spoken. Eloquence doesn’t mean “fancy.” It means clear.
Fourth–your voice. You have to pay attention to your volume, pitch, pacing, diction, etc. If you mumble and drop your word endings you’re going to frustrate your listeners. Tone and style matter a lot too–are you more conversational? Or do you employ more of a traditional preaching tone? I’ve heard masters of both. It can take awhile to find your voice–but it’s important. Authenticity and passion are communicated through how we say what we say.
Fifth, without a good memory it’s easy to get lost up there. There are lots of potential distractions. If you need to rehearse in order to know where you are, do it.
Sixth, no one can put up with a rambler that doesn’t know how to conclude. If you struggle to end your sermons–write out the endings and rehearse. The intro and conclusion of a sermon are as important as the first and last notes of a musical piece. Much can be forgiven in the middle that can’t be tolerated at the beginning or the end.
Seventh, make sure what you are saying is true. The pulpit isn’t the place to experiment with novel interpretations.
Eighth–I’m assuming Luther is talking about specific applications. Help the congregation see how your text applies to real life–to their lives.
Ninth–expect criticism. Some of it you need to listen to because you’re not infallible, and there’s always room to grow. You should try to be as winsome as possible, but the fact will always remain that the Gospel offends our pride, and sometimes we lash out at the messenger. It’s important to remember that we’re also up against spiritual opposition–this will lead to criticism (or worse). Remember that the vast majority of people won’t criticize you. But it only takes a few to make you feel like everyone is against you. Be very careful to not extrapolate the few to the many–especially if you’re preaching to a consistently charitable congregation.