Every time a preacher stands before a congregation and opens the Bible to offer a message from God’s Word, eternally weighty things are at stake.
Therefore, it’s critical that, before we step onto the stage, we know that we’ve done all we possibly can to prepare well for the task of rightly dividing the Word of Truth.
It’s so easy to skip steps, especially when you’ve been preparing sermons for many years. In the mere power of our own flesh, we can put thoughts on paper and organize them into a free-flowing outline, and then deliver the message without ever really praying over the principles we’re presenting.
With that tendency in mind, here are 10 critical steps to take with every single message you prepare for delivery.
The starting place for preparing any message or Bible lesson is always in prayer. It’s our way of consulting the Author of the Bible about its intention for our lives and the lives of others.
When you pray, seek wisdom from God with an openness to receive whatever guidance and wisdom the Spirit offers in return.
Hopefully, we’ve moved past the age of preaching by pure randomness. Every congregation has a corporate need to be moving toward a destination together, and every sermon is one stop on that journey.
Plan your preaching so that the spiritual diet of the church is balanced over time. Chart out which genres of Scripture and which major theological themes will be covered so that you know what you’re missing.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters.” When you’re preparing to preach, it’s highly advisable to do just that–“lie asoak” in the text, reading it over and over.
It’s also good to read it in its original languages (if you’ve been trained in them) or in multiple translations to get a feel for the original meaning, which usually can’t be captured in a simple word-for-word English translation.
Once you’ve spent plenty of time reading and re-reading the texts from which you’ll be presenting, the next step is to dive in deep and learn as much as possible about both the historical context as well as the precise grammatical nuances of a text.
It’s also good to study what other preachers and teachers have said as they’ve presented the passage. As you build your library of study materials, include homiletical insights in addition to technical reference tools.
When you’ve soaked in the text and feel confident you understand its meaning, it’s time to get quiet and do some listening, particularly in three directions:
- Listen as the Spirit guides your understanding.
- Listen to the needs of your listeners that might be answered by the message.
- Listen to insights from others who have presented on your topic before.
The task of the preacher and teacher of Scripture is to build a bridge from the “then and there” context of a passage to the “here and now” application of it. This takes skill and experience, but don’t worry–you’ll get better over time.
It’s good, at this stage, to write down three or four possible outcomes you wish to see in the lives of your hearers. How do you want them to live out the message in their daily lives in light of what you’ve taught?
The late professor and preacher W. H. Griffith Thomas challenged young ministers to, “Think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, pray yourself keen–then enter the pulpit and let yourself go!”
Dr. Griffith Thomas understood that writing is a human being’s way of giving structure to all of those thoughts running around in our minds. Things begin to get clear and take on a logical flow when we write them out.
Some preachers clear their minds by writing sermons in manuscript form while others think in bullets and numbered outlines. Regardless of your writing style, the discipline of writing is what leads us to clarity.
It’s one thing to mark up a manuscript with red ink. It’s another matter altogether to evaluate your words before they tumble out before a whole crowd of people. In rehearsal, you’ll know whether a thought can be articulated well or not.
Not everyone is comfortable rehearsing a sermon or speech before delivering it. Remember that it doesn’t have to be rehearsed on a stage in a large empty room. Even pacing around your office can help you to be expressive and to evaluate how your words will come across.
As you rehearse, try to keep track of how many times you use words like “um,” “uh,” and “like,” as these filler words can easily create barriers between you and your audience. We’ll teach you how to eliminate them from your vocabulary in Step 1 (of Voiceology).
If you write and present from a manuscript, this may not be realistic, but never underestimate the power of memorization to aid you in delivering your message more effectively.
It isn’t that you need to memorize the sermon word-for-word. Rather, when you repeat the outline and key verses many times over, you’ll feel far more confident as you hit the stage. This also allows you to keep better eye contact and connect more closely with your audience.
This final step can’t be emphasized strongly enough. Once the sermon is on paper and you’ve rehearsed it verbally, it’s time for extended, focused thinking on it. Meditation is the step that drives the roots of the message deep into your own heart and soul.
When you’ve thoroughly walked through all of these steps, you’ll deliver your message with passion and conviction. When it has had time to change you, it will be far more likely to change your audience.