Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Practicing your sermon

Since getting my auctioneer's license last year there is hardly a time when I'm alone in the car that I do not spend a few miles working on my chant.  I do try to make sure I'm not around a lot of other cars when I'm doing this.  There's enough people in our community that wonder about my sanity, and if people started seeing me doing an auction chant in the car that number would probably increase!  Still, I find this helps me stay sharp between auctions, and I've had several long-time auctioneers tell me they still practice their chant while driving down the road.

Oddly enough, when I was a pastor I seldom verbally practiced my sermons before delivering them.  Maybe I was concerned that doing so would have a negative impact on the spontaneity of the message.  After all, what minister wants his or her sermon to sound canned?  I'm actually more tempted to preach at least a portion of my message on the way to church today, especially if I am driving some distance to where I'm speaking.  I find that doing so helps me deliver a better message.

  1. Sometimes I find that a portion of the message just doesn't fit verbally like I thought it would on paper.  It's better to learn that before you preach the sermon than to realize it in the midst of the message.
  2. Sometimes I realize that the sermon is running longer than I prefer, and this provides me an opportunity to cut out parts that add less value to the message I'm trying to convey.
  3. It always helps me better remember the message which means I am less tied down to my outline.  This allows me to maintain better eye contact with the congregation and to move more freely on the platform.
  4. Sometimes I will think of a better illustration than I was using in my prepared message which often strengthens the sermon.  I can then incorporate that illustration or story in the message.
If I don't have time to practice the entire message I want to at least practice the introduction and the conclusion.  Your audience will decide to listen to your message or tune it out based on the strength of your introduction.  I figure I only have a few minutes at the start of the message to draw them in or I will lose them so the introduction has to be strong.  Likewise, the conclusion is vital as it invites the audience to respond to what they've just heard.  I need to clearly give them the best ways to respond to the message and invite them to do so.  If the introduction and the conclusion are not strong then the middle part of the message will be much less effective.

If you do not currently practice your sermons before preaching them, I encourage you to at least try it for 3-4 months to see if it makes a difference.  Your preaching ministry is so important that it is worth at least trying this to see if it makes you stronger in the pulpit.

Since this post is about preaching...I read the other day in another blog that many ministers still find the classic On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons by John A. Broadus to be one of their favorite books on preaching.  In that book Broadus wrote, "The record of Christian history has been that the strength of the church is directly related to the strength of the pulpit.  When the message from the pulpit has been uncertain and faltering, the church has been weak; when the pulpit has given a positive, declarative message, the church has been strong.  The need for effective preaching has never been greater."  He wrote this in 1870!  How much more true are these words today?

This book has been in my library since the mid-1980s, and it had a major impact on my ministry.  You can order a copy of it here.


Anthony Bradseth said...

Thank you for the great advice. I remember in Seminary the Prof. telling us to practice, practice, practice. I am sorry to say that I did very little.
My question would be....and an issue that I still struggle is concluding the message. It needs follow though and a call to action. Any suggestions would be great.

Dustin Long said...

This is a good post. I do not practice my sermons, but I study them, especially the intro, to where I have major parts memorized. I find that practicing, at times, causes me to get ahead of myself when I am actually delivering the sermon. This is not an every time instance, so I cannot say that it directly relates to practice. I wonder if anyone else has had this happen?

In Christ,


Dennis Bickers said...

Two great comments! Readers should feel free to jump in and respond to their questions. Regarding the call to action, you should have some specific way that people can respond to the message they've just heard. Be clear and direct about what that way should be and invite them to make that response. I hear too many sermons from pastors that never invite people to make any type of response. Big mistake!