As some of you will know, I preached at my church last Sunday for the first time. Now preaching is something I have been passionate about for a long time, even though I don’t do much of it. I have a vast collection of sermon tapes and mp3s, and probably listen to 5 or 6 sermons a week. And my mind is usually full of ideas of what would be good things to preach about. But its one thing to think about it, and another to do it. So here’s a few random reflections on the process of preparing and preaching a sermon.
Apart from John Piper’s book which I reviewed recently, here’s a couple of bits of advice I found helpful…
- At a new wine seminar on preaching Paul Harcourt said that “you say things best if you have said them before”. It makes sense, and I’m glad I practiced making my key points. I did try to write a script as he suggested, but I find my writing style is not good for reading out loud.
- Have a goal. Someone said that you should be able to explain your sermon in one sentence. What I did was I had a list of a few things that I wanted to explain clearly during the course of the sermon. I found it helpful to decide which things were “in” or “out” when I was trying to cut out excess material.
I had been fairly settled for some time on what I was going to preach on (the parable of the wise and foolish builders). It was going to include a section explaining what it means to become a Christian (basically an explanation of the gospel and atonement). One of the verses that prompted me to do this was 1 Cor 9:16 – “woe is me if I preach not the gospel” – Paul had a passion to preach the gospel, and even though his epistles cover a broad range of themes, there is a gospel thread running through them all. However, never before have I had such attacks of doubt about whether I should go with what I had prepared, or whether I should switch to a message more directly aimed at Christians. After all, most people in the church already knew all that I was going to tell them. It might have just been nerves, but I wonder whether it was spiritual attack. The devil doesn’t want the gospel preached.
I also agonised about whether to quote Matt 7:21-23, which is a severe warning that apparently strong Christians can actually be condemned in the judgement. I guess in our churches where we like to talk about grace all the time, verses like that really grate. And yet from both Matthew & Luke’s accounts of the parable, this warning against hypocrisy seems to be inextricably linked to the parable of the two builders. Even as I sat waiting to preach I was unsure whether I could bring myself to talk about this. In the end, I did read the verses, but rushed my explanation of it a bit.
You learn from your mistakes, and I made a few. Here’s what I forgot…
- I forgot to take my bottle of water with me when I went up to the platform. Not good, because my mouth was really dry.
- I forgot to look at the people on my left until nearly the end. The platform in our church is in the corner, so you need to look round more than you would in a conventional setup. Hope they didn’t think I was rude.
- I forgot to start my stopwatch. It meant that I had no idea of how long I was taking, and I ended up skipping an illustration that I didn’t need to.
- Although I had fairly detailed notes, I delivered the talk from memory, and missed out a few things I wanted to say. Thankfully, none of the main points were missed, but there were a few clarifications and transitional comments I forgot to include.
- My plan was to remind myself to slow down every few minutes. As it happens, I only remembered once.
It wasn’t all bad though. There were lots of positives I took away from this experience…
- I didn’t fluff my lines. Though I forgot some, the ones I did say mostly came out the way I meant to say them.
- People I have never spoken to before introduced themselves and thanked me – preaching is a great way to meet new people. (my friends were also very encouraging, but they are such nice people that I imagine they would congratulate me if I had simply spoken in tongues for 20 minutes).
- My main outline was decided many weeks in advance, which meant that many of the the sermons I heard, along with books and websites I read during those weeks were able to give me inspiration to fine tune and adjust the sermon. Beginning preparation as early as possible is definitely a good idea.
- I hit my target time. No one likes a preacher who goes on too long. In fact, I was a little too quick if anything.
- Being nervous makes you pray. Confidence isn’t a bad thing, but over-confidence can mean you forget to pray.
Anyone else got any advice on preaching to share? …