It’s stretching, right? Standing up to preach every weekend.
Insecurity mixes in with your faith that God will work through you. You know He can do it through you—unless you get in the way.
Here are seven practices I use to improve the quality of my preaching.
1. Write out a full manuscript.
Writing a full manuscript will force you to choose your thoughts carefully, deal with transitions and tailor the length of your message to the time allotted. Even if you don’t take the full manuscript with you on stage, the discipline of thinking through every word before you get on stage will improve your word choice.
I’ll make a blanket statement here: You can improve the quality of your sermon by 10-20 percent if you write out a full manuscript. Yes, I did make that statistic up. But even a 5 percent improvement would be worth the extra time, wouldn’t it? And what if taking the time to write down your words improved the sermon by 30 percent? It could.
2. Complete your first draft by Wednesday night.
Getting done early enables the sermon to simmer in your mind and seep into your soul. On Thursday and Friday you will find yourself making notes on how to improve the message. Use Saturday morning to write a final/improved draft.
Here’s another blanket statement: You can improve the quality of your sermon another 10-20 percent if you complete the first draft by Wednesday night. (Or maybe just 5 percent. Or maybe 30 percent.)
3. Complete your first draft three weeks in advance.
A third blanket statement: You can improve the quality of your sermon another 10-20 percent if you will finish the first draft three weeks ahead of time. You can debate with me how much improvement will come from these first three tips, but do you dare debate that significant improvement will come? Crockpot meals are almost always tastier than microwave meals.
True confessions, I rarely get three weeks ahead in my sermon writing. But when I do, not only does the sermon go better, my life goes better. There’s less stress and more joy. Since New Song is one church in multiple locations, I sometimes get the opportunity to preach the same sermon in a second location a week later. The week’s “simmer time” almost always improves it. During the second week I’m usually less emotionally attached to the message, which enables me to preach with greater perspective. Often I’m more attached to the central purpose of the message, which enables me to preach with deeper conviction.
4. Never preach a first draft.
As an author, I’m consistently surprised at the ways my manuscript improves when I come back to it a second and third time. Get in the habit of pre-preaching your sermon to a small group no later than Friday. If you can’t get a group together, preach it to yourself (out loud) two or three times.
Average preachers are often impressed by the effortlessness of great preachers. Great words just seem to flow out of them. I know a few of those great preachers. The truth is, the words just flow out of them because they have poured over their manuscript beforehand.
Your preaching will improve at least 10-20 percent between the first and third times you pre-preach it. (I know, I’m developing a repetitive theme here. That’s another great way to improve your preaching.)
5. Listen to great preaching.
Good communication is better caught than taught. I never thought I would become a senior pastor, so I only took one preaching course in seminary. Fortunately, I got one great piece of advice there: Spend a year studying a great preacher every year. When the Lord first called me to plant a church, I bought four years’ worth of Bill Hybels’ sermons. I listened to over two hundred hours of him communicating to seekers before I preached my first “seeker sensitive” message. Over the past 20 years, I’ve studied over two dozen preachers. I used to listen to messages in the car and while jogging. In the past few years I’ve taken to watching sermons online. Watching the preacher’s movements, seeing his visual aids and viewing the stage décor behind him has helped me in many ways.
As you listen to various preachers, you’ll discover some that you like and can imitate and some that you like and can’t imitate. Incorporate what you can and don’t worry about not being someone you are not. Over time, you’ll develop your own unique style. In the meantime, imitate those who are like you who have gone before you.
6. Get to bed.
Rested preachers are better preachers. Go to bed early on Saturday nights. Your brain will work better, your heart will be lighter and your motives will be more Spirit-led. It’s hard to be godly when you’re exhausted!
As a pastor, you don’t have the luxury of going to parties, sports events or movies on Saturday nights. You want a full night’s sleep, and you want to go to bed in close communion with the Holy Spirit, with God’s Word and your sermon foremost in your mind.
7. Visit other churches.
It’s tempting to skip church when you go on vacation. Don’t.
Several of my megachurch pastor friends make it a goal to visit two or three churches every Sunday they’re away from home. One of my friends once hit five churches on the weekend he was away!
Attending other churches will give you a chance to see what the Lord is doing elsewhere. Get to the church early and sit in the back row. Take note of how the room fills up, how the service starts, what the “feel” of the service is and how it was achieved. Bring your cell phone and take pictures of things you like. When it comes to building or buying things you want at your church, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Most of your observations will be subjective, so write them down before they fade. You are at the service to worship, but you are also there to grow (2 Peter 3:18). Five minutes before the service ends, write out a list of your observations and implementations so that you’ll be able to interact and affirm the church members once the service ends. After encouraging a few members, make a beeline for the pastor of the church. Unload a boatload of praise on him. Affirm his ministry. Tell him how God used him this morning. You may be the only person who does so. Only you will know how he feels. Whether he did a great job or not, he’s involved in the great work of God. Make him feel GREAT!
Total Improvement: 100%
Let’s add up our improvements: 20 percent for writing out your manuscript, 20 percent for writing it out by Wednesday, 20 percent for writing it out three weeks in advance, 20% for pre-preaching it. Add another 20 percent for the inspiration you received from great preachers, being rested and learning from other churches, and you’ve hit 100 percent—and doubled your preaching quality.
This article is an excerpt from Hal’s latest eBook: Putting On and Pulling Off Meaningful Worship Services. In this eBook, you can learn New Song’s complete Worship Planning System.