Monday, March 24, 2008

Eighth: Preach It Man!

In continuing my series on sermon preparation, the final step is to actually preach the sermon. The most I can say about the actual act of preaching is to pray, pray, pray. God will do the work. It is the preacher's job to prepare and remove himself as much from the sermon as possible so the congregation can hear God as clearly as they can. If the preacher prepared well, then he will not wonder what he will say, or how long it will be, or how the passage will flow. He will know the point of the sermon and not chase rabbits all day and so loose the listener. The sermon will be direct, to the point, and will say what need said using the most efficient amount of words. That is not to say sermons should be short or fast - but they should be long for the simple sake of being long. My philosophy is, "I have something to say from Scripture and I will get up, saying as efficiently as I can and then watch God work." My preaching is the weakest link in that process.

As for some of the more practical or physical issues of preaching, most of the mechanics of public speaking can be applied and it will help the presentation. Here are some things to think about:

1. Talk slow and clearly. You have been thinking about the sermon for quite a while now. When you lay a big theological concept on them, take a second or two to let it sink into their minds. Otherwise, they will park there and miss the next few minutes of what you are teaching. You are not talking as slow as you think you are and your nerves make you talk faster than you think you are. Train yourself to preach at a appropriate pace for the audience.

2. You should be able to out-preach a crying baby. Invariably, there will be a crying kid in your sanctuary. Do not let it rattle you. Just keep preaching. The parents will appreciate that you did not point out that their child was unhappy. If you think that something was missed because of the commotion, just note that the point is too important to miss so you are going to repeat it.

3. Use meaningful gestures and good posture. One of most helpful things I learned from preaching class was the issue of what to do with your hands and how to use meaning gestures. To help us students work on this, we were to video ourselves preaching and then play the video back on high speed. This will magnify any repetitive behavior which can really distract a listener from the message. For example, there were some men in the class who rocked back and forth while they preached. At high speed, they looked like Weeble Wobbles. There was another man who lift his arms from his side and put them back down. At high speed, it looked like he was trying to fly. I do not remember having repetitive behavior but I would walk back and forth behind the pulpit but would not let go of the pulpit. As if it was a life raft and if I let go I would drown. As for posture, get your hands out of your pockets. Jingling change while preaching is distracting to the listener. And they will wonder what in the world you got in those pockets. No slouching over the pulpit - it makes one look tired and lazy.

4. People do funny things when listening to sermons. Do not let that distract you. I am not sure what runs though their minds, but people do the weirdest things while preaching. Once, while guest preaching, I looked over at a prominent church leader and he was sitting upright with both hands over his face. His head was not bowed - he was sitting normally as if he was looking and me and listening, he just had both hands over his face. Strange. Recently, when sharing a sermon, I had a man in the crowd shaking his head as if I was way, way off theologically (I was not) and flipping through the pages to apparently find his proof. I have had people just burst out and ask a question about something (that I do not mind at all). There is any number of things that can distract you from what you were saying. Train yourself to stay on track.

5. Preaching is a spiritual exercise and God will work how he wants. Allow me to say, I am not saying preaching is performance. I am saying that if we want to minimize any distraction which would hinder the listener to hear the message, then we need to look at ourselves as well. Do we have distracting habits which would hinder the message? How can we improve the delivery of the message? These points are about attempting to communicate the message as clearly as we can. It has nothing to do with natural ability. I am the world's worst speaker. But there are things I can do to improve and become better at the call God gave me, with His help.

6. Handling compliments. I still do not know how to do handle the comments after the sermon. People will invariably tell you, "That was a good sermon" or something like that. However, we are not want to preach a "good" sermon which people really found entertaining or fun. We want to preach a life changing message which will bring about a change in the relationship between people and their God. When someone compliments one of my sermons, I usually saying something like "I hope it helped" or sometimes just "Thanks." I hate doing that but I think the people 1) are trying to encourage me and 2) do not really know what to say after a challenging sermon. So I am trying to know their heart and hope they know mine.

I pray you find this series on Sermon Preparation helpful. If so, please leave a comment or two on the steps that you found helpful. If you end up preaching this sermon, please let me know how it went and if these posts were helpful. Also, if you have a link to your sermon, I would love to hear it.

Diagram -> Outlining -> Excursus -> Word Studies -> Commentaries -> Excursus -> Refining -> Illustrations -> Practice -> Preaching