I’m probably not the first person you should go to for advise on preaching. I’m not what you would call a maestro in the pulpit. I’m never going to be mistaken for one of those outstanding and rare pulpiteers that make what I now know is actually extremely difficult and gift oriented look easy. I’m more a rumpled Woody Allen than polished Andy Stanley (actually people are constantly telling me I sound like Christopher Waken when I preach). I’m no spellbinder for sure. My delivery has (as I once heard an old preacher describe himself), “more faults than the state of California”.
But after more than four decades of working at it I’ve learned some things that may be helpful. So I thought, for whatever it’s worth, I’d take you on a short trip through my head and come up with a grocery list of my thoughts on the subject of sermon prep and preaching:
- I plan my sermons the way a cook plans meals for his or her family – I want them to be nutritious, well balanced and taste good. Meals should include vegetables as well desert.
- The most important ingredient in preaching is the Scriptures. I once heard the Bible described as the pantry of our preaching.
- Hear the Scriptures don’t just study them. Don’t wait until you have free quiet time for listening to them, create some “slave” time for yourself instead.
- There’s only one other ingredient of preaching as important as Scripture and that’s prayer. Remember prayer is talking to someone who’s already talking to you. So keep listening carefully.
- I have no problem using other sources in my sermons. Just remember to give credit where credit is due.
- Pay close attention to the context – checking what comes before and after the passage you’ve selected. Check as far forward as you must to get a grip on where the Spirit seemed to be heading. Check as far back as you must go in order to notice what he had in mind before you got to where you are.
- As far as delivery is concerned – be yourself. It’s easier to improve on who you are rather than imitating someone you’re not.
- I write out or outline my sermon the way I talk and I then edit with a vengeance. I keep the sound of my normal conversational voice in my head and then delete, delete, delete until I’ve stripped down my notes to nothing but that voice.
- Be conversational. I find people are most receptive to this. Get rid of the Christianese, sociologese, psychobabble, and academic jargon.
- If you can’t say it in thirty minutes or less don’t say it. Forget about your fabulous beginnings and gripping endings. Hit and quit ‘em so you can spend most of your time on the meaty middle.
- I keep things simple by basically trying to communicate one helpful truth the Lord has given me to pass on (people can only remember one thing anyway). So I use my beginning to introduce that one thing. I use be body of my sermon to explain that one thing. And I use my conclusion to apply that one thing.
- I take a more prescriptive than directive approach. I give a lot of suggestions of things people might want to try rather than telling them what to do.
- Finally, even though I’ve put a lot of work into my preparation I remain open to the possibility of Lord changing my sermon at the last minute.
I used the phrase “foolishness of my preaching” not because I don’t take my preaching seriously – I do – or to be overly modest but because I’m acutely aware that God has chosen to use the weak and foolish things – like me and my preaching – to get his work done. I’m aware that’s it’s about content – the power and presence of the Spirit delivering the gospel – not my preparation, style or delivery that makes the difference. One week I can give a five star performance with little or no results, while the next I can fall flat on my face and see lives impacted and transformed. What foolishness! I know the power and effectiveness of my preaching resides not in me but in him. But like the fool for Christ that I am I keep plugging away knowing that I’m just a delivery boy not the star.