You may think preaching is a natural gift, but really it’s an acquired skill. You might believe God hasn’t given you the gift of preaching, but I assure you this is not the case.
Moses said the same thing to Yahweh when He spoke from the burning bush: I am not a great speaker, Moses said. But God told Him He would give Moses the right words to say in front of Pharaoh. God used Moses mightily to rescue the Israelite’s from captivity. He can use your voice in the same way. All you need is the Lord’s strength.
So if preaching is an acquired skill, what are some practical steps to become more effective in the pulpit? The simple answer is practice, practice, and more practice.Tweet
Before stepping foot into the pulpit, there are many steps you must take before you preach live to an audience. I will share with you how I practice and prepare. You can take whatever ideas you like and discard the rest.
The first is prayer. You need to pray and ask God what type of message your congregation or audience needs to hear that day. What is relevant? Who will benefit from this topic or exegetical sermon? How will this sermon help encourage my congregation?
Preaching should not focus on what you desire to teach but what is most needed for the congregation. You are called to be a shepherd and servant to your flock. Focusing on what God wants you to share with them is the primary step.
After you establish what God wants you to preach on, then it’s time for the research phase. Let’s say you want to preach from the book of Jonah. The first thing you should do is read the book several times.
I know this sounds simple, but you would be surprised how many people will jump immediately into reading commentaries before they take the time to meditate on God’s word. Don’t put the cart before the horse.
Once you have immersed yourself in the book of Jonah, the next phase would be to find all the cross references in Scripture that mention Jonah. This will help you fulfill a simple hermeneutical principle: Scripture should interpret Scripture.
In other words, your commentary should come from the Bible first. These are your primary sources. For instance, Jesus spoke about Jonah as a historical person.
This fact from reading the New Testament is an important component of how you will view the book as a whole. This only happens when you delve in and find out what the entire Bible discusses.
After you build your cross reference list, the next phase (assuming you are preaching exegetically vs topically) would be to zoom into a chapter or even passage of Jonah that you will craft your sermon upon. This is expository preaching, which is a verse by verse explanation.
In this phase, you can start consulting commentaries that discuss the passage you decide to teach on. Let’s say you are going to preach on the first chapter of Jonah.
You may want to read the Hebrew and understand who Jonah was, what his name means, where the story is located, main characters, moral implications, what type of genre (historical narrative, wisdom, prophecy, parable, etc), how does the story fit within the whole narrative of Scripture, how does this chapter relate to the previous prophets, how does the story of Jonah point to the Messiah, and why does this story apply to modern day Christians?
After you have done thorough research, it’s time to start writing it out. My preference is to write a complete manuscript of every word I might possibly say in the pulpit. Other pastors recommend outlining in great detail what you want to say, and to leave flexibility for a more natural flow. They say this will give you an opportunity to drift from the script if a sudden prompting of the Holy Spirit occurs.
Now I must say I am a fan of full manuscript. I have heard many arguments in favor and against. While the outline in detail sounds more spiritual and godly, keep in mind that when you write a manuscript, surely you can ask God to give you the exact words then.
Think of writing a sermon manuscript as an act of worship, not a duty or task-oriented job.Tweet
Personally, I think you are better equipped to write a full manuscript with the help of the Holy Spirit so that when you are in the pulpit, you will not go off course. You will stay focused, on task, and better time your sermon. With even a detailed outline, you may go off on tangent and confuse your congregation.
Now that I have hopefully convinced you to go with a full manuscript where you type out every word you might possibly say (you can still be flexible here and change up words), the next phase is how to craft your sermon.
I think most sermon experts would agree you need an introduction, a body of paragraphs with a main point and sub-points, and a conclusion. Also, between each paragraph, which are ideas, you should incorporate transitional sentences.
When I was in seminary, I took a valuable preaching class and our professor taught us how to use transitional sentence. This concept helps your sermon ebb and flow. For example, toward the end of each paragraph, ask yourself: How do I connect the last point I made to a new idea?
Here might be an example: We know Jonah was swallowed by a large fish for three days and God miraculously rescued him to preach repentance to Nineveh. We also know in the same way, the Son of Man was in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights. This connection between Jonah and Jesus are significant because…point 1, point 2, and point 3. This transition shifts you naturally from the focus of Jonah’s story to how it corresponds to the story of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection.
After you have pinpointed all your main points, subpoints, and transitional statements, it’s time to think about the introduction and conclusion. The reason the introduction should be left at the end is because you need to first know all your main points so the catchy story fits properly.
There are many pastors who come up with good stories, funny illustrations, and catchy phrases to start, but oftentimes it doesn’t relate to the sermon. Please don’t make their mistake of focusing all their energy on the introduction without doing the grunt work first.Tweet
If you can first make your sermon biblically strong, logically sound, organized, and practical to the believer, then you can just come up with a few great stories that are sprinkled in your sermon. But remember, the stories are not what’s important. You need to teach your people the word of God. That should be where most of your time is devoted to.
After the manuscript is crafted, start to read through it and edit any long winded points or words that may sound good on paper but not in speech. You should not be adding any more detail to your sermon at this point. Instead, you should be cutting many things out to get the sermon as precise and concise as possible.
After this phase is completed, you should print off the final copy and do your best to memorize the words you have put on the paper. This will help you focus more on eye contact and less on looking at the page.
I have found this to be one of the greatest critiques of full manuscripts. That is, people will be tempted to look at their manuscript, which will reduce the speakers interpersonal communication, eye contact, and natural flow of speech.
But that only happens when the person creates the manuscript and stops there. This is a big mistake. The sermon prepper should have at least the day to let the manuscript sink in their mind and soul.
They will need to read through it several times, mark their main points with a highlighter so they emphasize it with their voice, maybe even write next to it (repeat 2x) just so the hearer knows this point is important, and then time themselves within reason (35-45) minutes. I don’t think even the greatest orator can keep peoples attention span for more than an hour.
The last phase will be to talk in front of a mirror or ideally a person such as your spouse. You will be able to gain solid feedback, encouragement, and gain confidence to talk in front of an audience. Then make sure at the end you pray and leave the rest up to God.
I hope this article will equip you to write a more effective sermon with the tips I have shared. Like I said before, you don’t need to incorporate every aspect of the the sermon prep phases I discussed above. However, I think you should fully write out your sermon, even if you don’t go to the pulpit with it in the end. You can always reduce the manuscript to an outline. Whatever you decide, let it fit your personality. And most especially, allow the Holy Spirit to lead you in preaching an effective sermon for the glory of God. Blessings!