the shape of leadership

Preaching With a Growth Mindset

Five ways to improve your sermon skills

Chris Colvin on October 1, 2020

Here’s something all educators know: Students can get better, but they will only get better if they believe they can. This is sometimes called a growth mindset. The term originated in education, but it has expanded into the business world and beyond.

A growth mindset is essentially the belief that your present abilities — whatever they are and whatever level they’re at — can develop further. Another way to think of it is, My gifts can grow!

Teachers find that when students realize they can grow and improve in a given area, they will actually put more effort into it. Students can hone and refine their current skills, and even pick up new ones.

In ministry, this is vital. As a pastor, you are called upon for many different tasks — perhaps even some you don’t feel completely comfortable with. But if you believe you can improve, then you will.

The best part is, a growth mindset is not outcome based. You can measure your growth against your potential, of course. But this idea refocuses attention on the process of improvement and the relationships that will guide you. In other words, it’s the path of discipleship.

Three Blocks to a Growth Mindset

Not everyone has a growth mindset. And those who do can start to drift from it, unfortunately. To avoid that, it’s important to be aware of three roadblocks.

The first is a fixed mindset. This is the exact opposite of a growth mindset. It’s the belief that whatever skills I currently have are what I will always have. And whatever growth I’ve attained is as far as I can go. This mindset says, I can’t get any better.

Successful artists and musicians understand the value of not remaining where they are. Practicing, learning, and even making mistakes help propel them toward their goals. Have you ever looked at a famous artist’s early work? Seeing his or her growth over the years can be truly inspiring.

Next is a comparison mindset. Perhaps you believe you can grow, but you worry you’ll never reach the level you want. That’s the trap of a comparison mindset. It says, I can never be as good as them.

It’s easy to look up to another minister and think, If only I were as good as that leader. The truth is, you have gifts and abilities that person may never have. And the traits you admire in other leaders can become areas of growth for you, too. Those people weren’t always as good at what they do as they are right now. Never compare your starting point with someone else’s midpoint.

Finally, watch out for a scarcity mindset. Even if you believe you can improve and you want to improve, you may remain convinced that you have no way to do it. A scarcity mindset says, I want to get better, but I don’t have the tools.

Never compare your starting point with someone else’s midpoint.

There are so many ways to get better, and it’s not all about access to schools or money. It’s about sticking to a goal. Find a simple way to learn and improve, and simply do it consistently.

Preaching With a Growth Mindset

So, how can you use a growth mindset to improve your preaching? Start with five simple steps.

1. Practice. This is one of the most important things any preacher can do. When I talk to pastors, I ask them whether they practice regularly. The ones who put in the effort to go over their notes, out loud, prior to preaching are the ones I’ve seen consistently improve on their craft.

There are two things that hold preachers back from practicing: time and comfort. Some say they just don’t have the time to put into it. To that, I say make the time. More often, it’s the latter issue. It’s uncomfortable to find a private place and practice a sermon. It almost feels like you’re pretending. But the results will always outweigh the discomfort.

2. Review. On the other side of your sermon is review. When was the last time you sat down and watched one of your own messages? You should. And as you do, take notes. Don’t highlight just the negatives. Those will be easy for you to spot. Also mark the good points, including any responses you get from the congregation.

3. Read. Leaders are readers, and so are preachers. Books are an affordable way to increase your knowledge in any area. Pick a topic, and read up on it. Becoming an expert in one area can improve your comprehension in others.

As a preacher, it’s also good to read the way other people write. As you read, pay attention to things like word choice, sentence length, pacing and emotion. You’ll become more aware of effective communication techniques.

4. Build a team. A growth mindset doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Part of improving as an individual is surrounding yourself with the right people. Build a team of people with complementary skills, and then learn from one another.

5. Find a course. Identify a way to invest in your skills right now. Perhaps a local Bible college or seminary offers courses to pastors at reduced rates. You may also find an online video course that takes you from start to finish in the preaching process, including sermon prep and sermon follow-up. It’s the type of course that can take you to the next level.

Anyone can grow if they put in the effort. My daughter decided to take up violin at school, something that surprised her nonmusical parents. Now, two years later, her brother has done the same.

Listening to my son practice his scales reminds me of the growth mindset. I can hear him struggling with basic chord progressions, something my daughter did in the beginning. But she has improved by leaps and bounds. If my daughter had given up after struggling at the start, she wouldn’t be the violinist she is today. And now my son has inspiration to continue his hard work as well.

What difference can a growth mindset make in your life and ministry?

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