I remember the very first time I preached. I’m not talking about giving a devotion at youth or sharing my testimony at Church; I’m talking about an actual sermon that I was to share with the Church congregation. This involved praying, planning, writing and delivering. ‘Piece of cake’, I thought to myself. However, it was anything but. I fell into the trap of assuming that ‘anyone can preach’. Now, before we get into the semantics of the word ‘preaching’, I need to say that it really is an art; a balancing act between communication and humility.
My sermon bombed. I mean, seriously bombed. I had over-planned; I wanted to blow their socks off with deep theological thought. I would go back to the original Greek and make them awe in wonder as they listened and soaked up my dazzling theological intellect. I was wrong. So wrong.
I quickly learned that preaching isn’t about penetrating the heads (figuratively speaking, of course), but to touch the hearts of those who are listening as I lean into God’s leading. This is the difference between preaching and communicating; preachers aren’t only there to impart pearls of wisdom and knowledge; their main focus should be to lead people to God as He uses them as His mouthpiece.
We can do many things as we prepare to enter the pulpit. I am in no way claiming to be the world’s best preacher, however I have learned some things along the way. So here are my 5 big areas of preparation.
This is what really separates ‘preaching’ from ‘communicating’. Don’t get me wrong; I believe a huge facet of effective preaching is tied in with being a good communicator. However, before preparing any message, we must pray and ask God for guidance, understanding and direction.
The next challenge is to trust His leading in what He wants us to speak into, even when it makes little or no sense to us.
2. Be able to articulate your ‘BIG IDEA’
A sermon should be made up of multiple points, but this in itself can be confusing if the listeners are to take something away from the message. These points should all point to one main point; a one-line ‘big idea’ that should be threaded through the entire message.
For example; recently I did a message on prayer. My ‘big idea’ was we need to pray in all circumstances. This was the umbrella topic, with sub-points all aimed at this. I covered Jesus’ model of prayer, David’s prayer in Psalm 51 and personal anecdotes and illustrations.
After each point, I intentionally reiterated the importance of praying in all circumstances.
This is the key: If WE don’t know our big idea, we can’t expect our listeners to either
Start any sermon preparation by establishing a ‘big idea’. This will give our message more direction and purpose.
3. Make a blueprint
Now that we know where we are going with our ‘big idea’, it’s really important to form a blueprint for how we will construct our message.
There are many ways to plan the construct of a sermon, so I will let you know how I do it. I have two methods for forming a blueprint, which is dependent on whether my message is expository/exegetical or topical.
If it is exegetical, I soak myself in the text and meditate on the verses. I literally write each verse as a sub-heading and unpack each one. I still have a ‘big idea’ with this method, including illustrations and current-day metaphors to help the listeners understand what the text is saying.
If the message is topical, more-often-than-not, I’ll use Andy Stanley’s ‘me-we-God-you-we’ format. If you want a more in-depth explanation of this, I recommend reading Stanley’s book ‘Communicating for a Change’.
Here is the format in a nutshell:
Me: I usually open with a personal anecdote or a story in the news. The idea is to get something that the listeners can resonate with.
We: Bring the ‘lesson’ of the personal anecdote or story into the congregation’s context. A good line is ‘I wonder how many of us here today knows what this feels like?’. The ‘We’ is the glue that connects the anecdote with the message. This is where we identify the ‘tension’; a problem that needs solving.
God: What does the Bible say about this tension? This should make up around 80% of the message. This is the meat of the message, which needs scripture; a Godly perspective on the ‘big idea’.
You: The personal challenge to the congregation. ‘How can you going to pray more this week?’… ‘How are we going to show more love and compassion to people that may not know Jesus this week?’. Essentially, it’s giving the listeners homework through challenge. This connects the listening to action.
We: The landing; this is what is going to inspire people to act on what they have just heard. It’s about casting vision; ‘I wonder what it would look like if we as a Church prayed more?’ People will be inspired by seeing the big picture, and this ties the message up perfectly.
I’ll admit, I used to scoff in derision whenever I heard the preachers rehearsed their sermons. Questions such as ‘where is the Spirit’s leading?’ and ‘Isn’t it just a performance?’.
I Now have a much healthier view of sermon rehearsal, and this is why; it gives the message polish and helps you as the preacher understand where you are going next.
The key is to not necessarily memorise your sermon, but to know it.
The difference between the two are quite distinct. Memorising your message means you have it down-pat word-for-word, and yes, I would argue this is purely performance. ‘Knowing’ your sermon means you know the general structure; you know what is coming next. This is how you can get confident leaving the pulpit when making a point; you KNOW what is coming next.
When I preach, I usually have around 13 pages of notes for a half-hour sermon. That’s just the way it has worked out, and it helps me gauge the length of my message. Do I preach from my notes word-for word? No. It is purely a guide in which I can go back to if I need to whilst not robbing me of the leading of the Holy Spirit.
There have been times I’ve preached 95% from my notes, and there are times I have preached with 10% of my notes. It really depends on God’s prompting and the response from the congregation.
I would encourage you to use notes, but don’t be dependent on them.
What preaching tips do you have?