Yesterday I posted on the highs and lows of preaching. Today I would like to comment more about the technique of sermon preparation and how I go about it. The first step always involves prayer and this is the most important step. For it is through prayer we connect with our living God. It’s through prayer we receive his inspiration and empowerment to preach.
The second step is to think about the subject at hand. There are times when I am asked to preach on a certain topic, or from a particular passage. Other times I am given a free reign to preach on what ever topic I think the Lord is calling me to preach on.
When the topic or passage is given to me, I again start praying about that topic. I read through the passage, or passages that are pertinent to it a number of times. I read the context of those passages and take a note of what they are saying to me. What is the context and what is the meaning of what is being said. The questions I ask have to do with context, tradition and culture, what is the narrative story in those passages, what does it mean to those involved. I also ask myself what is going on in the society in which we live, what is happening in the lives of the people I’m preaching to.
Often there is a broad range of material to preach from and its important to narrow down what it is you are going to preach. Am I giving a broad overview of a passage or book, or am I looking at a more narrow perspective.
My next step is to look at a commentary or two. It’s important to note what others have to say on the subject. By commentary I mean just that, a scholarly book and not just a popular devotional book. This causes a check and a balance…its important though not to be bogged down by a commentary as the author may not be coming from or see the perspective you do. Preaching is never saying what we think or what we feel….rather it has to be on what the word of God is really saying.
Think of your structure…are you going to tell a story. Are you going to preach a 3 point sermon, with text, meaning and application. Are you going to teach or exhort. It’s also important to know your time limitations. Some preachers are able to preach for an hour and still hold the congregations attention. Some might be able to preach for 10 minutes. My span is around the 25 – 35minute mark, and I know that if I preach any longer than that I have lost my audience. It’s better to cut a sermon short and leave the listeners wanting more, than it is to preach longer and the listeners wishing you had finished 5 – 15 minutes earlier.
Application is the big one. It’s important to be able to connect the sermon to the congregation. It’s all well and good to be able to know the nuances of Greek. It’s all well and good to know the various discussions that abound about the possible meanings of the text. Yet no matter how well you know it, its pointless if you can’t connect that to those your preaching to. It’s no use talking about raising kids if your speaking in a retirement home. It’s pointless to be talking about joy, when the congregation has an issue of grief. Perhaps you need to preach on stepping up to the mark if the congregation is slacking off…..or perhaps you need to talk about self care – if there is a risk of burnout and people doing to much.
By this time I have a rough idea of how the sermon is taking place. And I start to preach it. I preach bits of it to the dog, in the shower, while driving. And I am constantly developing it and editing it. Unless I’m preaching a fairly technical sermon, I try and not use notes at the pulpit. It’s important to know the subject of your sermon, to have a deep understanding of your text and the frame work of your subject.
By not using notes, or limiting my use of notes, I can maintain eye contact with the congregation. But… not using notes is risky. It’s not for the faint hearted and its not for the ill prepared. But it does force myself to rely on the Spirit of God to be speaking through me. It forces me to know what I am going to say as I step up to the pulpit and to truly be prepared. On a personal note, I like to engage with the congregation. I don’t like asking rhetorical questions, instead, if I am asking a question, I want feedback from the congregation and from experience this works for my style of preaching.
Finally I always have a number of sermons up my sleeve to preach at short notice. You never know when you will need it and when someone will ask you to preach. I had a friend ring me one time asking me if I could fill in for him and preach at a local Korean gathering with 2 hours notice, and forgetting to tell me to cut the sermon length in half because it was preached through a translator.
A final note on sermon preparation. Charles Spurgeon was asked how long it took him to prepare a particular sermon. His reply was that it took him a life time. Whether or not we preach on a regular, semi regular or sporadic basis, its important that we allow the word of God to become alive in us. That we become immersed and living agents of it. That we become agents of love, we allow God to shape us and mold us…and that when we become living examples of God’s word in us.