Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Seventh: Practice

In the continuation of the series of post regarding sermon preparation, we next turn to the issue of practice. We have worked a lot on this passage (1 Timothy 1:3-11) and have developed a decent sermon so far. The next step I take at this point is practicing delivering the sermon.

Now, first of all, some may have the concept of "practicing" delivering a sermon. I am sure thoughts such as, "If God has anything to do with it, you will not need practice" or "I do not want to practice my sermon, I only want to say what the Holy Spirit wants me to say." While these are valid thoughts, practice does not negate these concepts. In fact, practice can hone the thoughts what God would have you say to the audience to which you are speaking.

In addition to this, public speaking does not come naturally to me. When asked to extemporaneously give speeches or even announcements I have a hard time communicating correctly. I invariably flub some important part or leave out some integral detail. I do not want this happening when I preach. Why would God call someone who is that bad at public speaking to preach? I continual ask Him the same question. I rest on Paul's statements that I am strongest when I am at my weakest and the weak things of the world are what God chooses to work through.

When I practice my sermon, I do just as I would if I was standing before the congregation. I pray over my sermon, although at this time I am praying for God to prepare my heart and the people's heart who will be receiving this message. I am praying for God to show me what exactly He would want me to share with the people. Then I begin. I preach through the material I have prepared. I have a pen with me and when I come to a place that needs work or I feel like something needs added, I make note of it and move on. I also time myself. I want to know how long this message will take to preach through.

Practicing the sermon does several things for me. First, it helps me smooth the rough edges off the sermon. If there are awkward moments in the sermon or transitions that do not seem to flow, I can identify those and work on them.

Second, it helps me memorize my sermon. I know what is coming and do not have to looks at my notes when preaching the sermon. Also, when the sermon is memorized, it helps me live it out when I am running around town. If I am preaching about loving the lost and my sermon notes are running through my mind, I will think about the slow cashier differently (and it may provide a good sermon illustration at the same time).

Third, practicing the sermon helps gets more of "me" out of the sermon. That is, if I am unprepared then the audience gets a lot of me - my thoughts, my mistakes, my misspoken words, etc. Practicing helps minimize the things that may distract the listener from getting the whole message.

Finally, it may help me create a whole new "shape" for the sermon. For example, as I practiced our current sermon on 1 Timothy 1:3-11, I started with an illustration about counterfeiting and how Abraham Lincoln founded the Secret Service. This made me think that perhaps a good way to approach this sermon is something like "God's Secret Service" or "We must be God's Secret Service Agents." Then the main points could be a creative use of that topic. However, I was not able to do that as the time came for me to preach it without having time to "redevelop" the sermon in that manner.

I have one more note about practicing. I want to mention what practicing is not. I do not practice my sermon so I can produce the highest level of emotion in the congregation that I can. I do not practice my sermon so that I can have the best pointing jesters or waving or whatever. I am not practicing so the sermon will be my best performance ever. These are self-focused reasons for practicing and one must always remember to avoid such practices. I practice my sermons so that the message can be clearly heard and I can be removed as much as possible in the delivery.

We are almost through this series. While not a complete study of sermon preparation, it may help in giving a direction in which to move toward.

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