Last week I was in Dallas at Highland Oaks Church of Christ to speak about Paul the Preaching Pastor. One session I wish I could have attended was a bundle of pastors talking about preaching, and Jonathan Storment, at Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, and a friend of mine and a very good preacher, was kind enough to draft up a “report” of pastors talking about preaching. In my years of speaking to pastor groups I have discovered the strongest commitment to preaching among the Churches of Christ … so enjoy.
This past week I participated in a smaller conference for pastors talking about the blessing and the burden of this particular calling. At one point several preachers were involved in a forum about how they prepare each week for their sermon. [Just in case you don't know this, the CofC folks call their pastors "preachers" ... ]
Now if you are not a preacher, it may sound like over-kill when you hear preachers talking about how important they think preaching is. But maybe that’s because we are trying to keep reminding ourselves why we aren’t going to quit.
Seriously. I love this calling, but my job feels a bit like I’m always being chased by a bear, because Sunday’s always coming, and most preachers I know tend to feel guilty for not being able to go to every funeral/wedding/hospital and spend as much time studying and praying and preparing as we would like.
So that’s why we talk so much about preaching, and how to do it.
And if you are a preacher, here’s some of the advice from that panel of very good preachers:
- Don’t think in terms of sermon preparation vs. ministering to people. Some of the best stories and illustrations come from sharing life with the people you serve with. You can learn just as much about how to preach for a congregation at the hospital bed as you can in a commentary. But both are needed.
- There are lots of ways to pray and think through a sermon: Every preacher had a different rhythm for preparing. Find whatever works for you, and think outside the box…or the office. Several did what Barbara Brown Taylor suggests, “Read the text and then go for a long walk.” Several preachers have very regimented schedules for how they plan to create. Personally I write my sermons two weeks out, on Sunday afternoon. It makes Sunday a long day, but it makes the rest of the week much easier.
- Never speak for God unless you’ve spoken to Him. Every preacher acknowledges that there is something like an “ah-ha!” moment in preaching. Where he or she gets a word that wasn’t there before, and didn’t come from them. No matter the tradition I’ve never met a preacher who didn’t experience this mysterious moment of preaching. In fact, I think it’s why most preachers believe preaching is so important. They sense a partnership with God each week.
- Think through ways that this text or topic intersects with your own life. The Church didn’t call you to just share an idea; that church called you to share some of yourself…your own vulnerabilities and stories. Think through personal moments in your life where you have succeeded or failed in doing what you are talking about.
- Listen to other preachers and teachers. Most of the preachers admitted to having help in finding their voice along the way, and much of that came from listening to other preachers. Some of the best ideas come from listening to the other creative approaches other ministers are using to approach the Scriptures.
- Be careful of listening too much to other preachers. In today’s world, it’s easy to just listen to the most popular podcast and try to pull it off as your own. In fact, for a while your church might like it better! But they called you, not Andy Stanley. And Craig Groeschel doesn’t know what they are going through, you do. You’re their pastor. That’s an honor we shouldn’t forget.
- Don’t just listen to preachers…and for that matter, don’t just read books to prepare. Sure these are all important to having something to say. But spend time with real people in your real world. One preacher said every Sunday morning he watches CNN before heading to church. He wants to make sure there is nothing happening in the world that he should be familiar with before preaching.
- Try preparing series or sermons with other preachers: This one has blessed my personal ministry as much as anything else. I have several close preaching friends across the country, and most of the series I’ve preached the past few years, I’ve preached with one of them. We share the research load, and our notes before the sermon, we discuss what worked and what didn’t, and we Skype each week to prepare for the coming sermon.
- Pay attention to delivery. Most of the time in Seminary is spent teaching preaching students to pay attention to what they are preaching, and very little to how they are preaching. This is unfortunate, because chances are, (and most churches might not admit it) this is the part that many church care the most about. And that’s not a bad thing. They want to be challenged and confronted with the Scriptures, and they want to have a word from the LORD, but they also want to have it communicated to them in a way that actually shows that you’re interested in this too.
So we shouldn’t Jesus-juke people into ignoring the fact that we never took speech class very seriously. It seems that Paul was very familiar with the rhetorical tools of his day, and even the “untrained fisherman” knew how to tell stories in a way that connected to where the people they were talking to lived. So pay attention to what good communicators are doing and how they are doing it. Spend some time watching video of yourself preaching. If the sound is turned off, what would people think you were feeling or trying to communicate?
So that’s what we talked about. If you’re a preacher what would you add? What principles do you use when you approach your preparation?