Sunday, July 9, 2017

sermon preparation

A pastor friend wrote in and asked me some questions about sermon preparation.  Since I am filling in next Sunday for a pastor that is on vacation, this is a good time to share this process.

Here are the questions that he sent in-
     What is your process for sermon development and writing?
    What are your rituals/routines/habits for sermon development and writing?
    What is your process for feedback following your sermon delivery?

Sermon Preparation
1.  Pray.  I don't mean pray for a good sermon or pray for good ideas, I mean stay in touch with God on a regular basis.  Keep the lines of communication open.  A prayer for inspiration for a sermon is fine, but it should be a regular part of the flow of dialogue between God and human.
2.  Look constantly for ideas.  Read the Bible, read everything you can get your hands on.  Find a speaker that speaks to you and devour their material.  Anyone that talks for a living needs to keep their eyes open for thoughts, stories and illustrations.
3.  Organize thoughts.  I like to think of a four burner stove.  The closest burner is for this Sunday.  The burners farther back have pots that are simmering with ideas for the coming weeks.  I usually collect about four weeks ahead so that hopefully by the time that Sunday arrives, we have a pot full of good stuff.
4.  Make sure that you can relate to it.  Make sure that it strikes your heart.  If the content does not strike your heart, if you don't have a heartfelt affinity with the material, neither will anyone else.  Without that heart connection, a sermon becomes a nice talk or speech.
5.  Write it out, move it around, massage it.  Take all of those thoughts out of the pot and line them up in a way that makes sense.
6.  Practice delivering it.  Actually stand up in front of a counter, set your notes down and go through it audibly.  Often, things that looked good on paper, do not sound as good when delivered live.  Often something that looks like a good transition does not work at all.  A person can learn a lot about practicing their sermon live.  [the first sermon I gave in 1977 I had set up chairs and was practicing for the sermon in the basement and the family cat came down, curled up on a chair and went to sleep!]
7.  After you have made all of the adjustments and you think you have it ready, don't be afraid to change it again.  You know when something feels right, and you know when something feels forced.  When you stand up to talk to the folks, it should feel as comfortable as possible.
8.  Love the people.  A successful sermon will only fall onto the ears of people that you love.  If they don't like you, if they can't relate to you, they won't listen to your stuff.  Spend the time to build relationships with the people in your audience.  We listen to people that we like and we also give them a pass when a weak sermon gets through.  Love the people.

My friend also asked about how do you get feedback.  Well I never had an organized group that had the job of advising or critiquing a sermon after the fact.  There were always plenty of folks that would chime in with their opinion.  I always welcomed the feedback because constructive criticism can improve our efforts.  In every church I was at, I had a couple of close friends that I would routinely ask for feedback.

So I am working on a sermon for next Sunday.  I am filling in for a friend at the Ft. Pierce UMC on July 16th.  If you are in the area, you are invited to stop by.  Service starts at 9:30.

It's a beautiful day in God's world, be sure to see the good.

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