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I've served in ministry over 30 years, and I've preached a lot of sermons. Some have been good and some, well, not so good. Three factors have made the biggest positive difference for me: preparing my heart before the Lord, scheduling adequate study time to avoid feeling rushed and practicing preaching my sermon. I'd like to suggest a few benefits from practice and describe my practice/preparation process.

As a framework, a few insights about me:

I'm not an A+ communicator. I'd say I'm a solid B+. God has gifted me with a good mind and relatively good speaking abilities, but I don't command a multi-thousand person church audience. I'll speak to several hundred people on an average Sunday. I don't have a photographic memory that allows me to memorize my sermons.

I don't have unlimited energy, need eight hours of sleep, and go into a semi-comatose mode at about 8:30 each night. So I can't pick up extra study hours at night. If study gets done, it must happen during daylight hours.

I study slowly. I can't quickly craft a message. Even after three decades of doing it, I still need 15 hours or so to create a message, excluding practice time.

Familiarity: When I practice, I become more familiar with the homiletic part (how will I say it), a different kind of familiarity than hermeneutic familiarity (what the Bible says).

Improvement: When I practice my message, I notice how I can say things differently, which improves what I eventually do say.

Shortening: Practice often helps me realize that I can remove some parts of my sermon without affecting the message I want to convey. I almost always shorten my sermon as I practice it.

Confidence: The more familiar I become with my sermon, the less I have to think about what "comes next" when I preach, which increases my confidence during delivery.

Memory: Although I don't memorize my messages (I work from a complete manuscript), the more I practice, the more it embeds into my subconscious, which frees me to connect better with the congregation through eye contact and body language when I deliver it.

Timing: I usually try to use humor in each message. Professional comedians practice a lot to improve timing in their humor.

When I practice, it helps me improve my timing. I complete my study and write my manuscript at least two weeks ahead of time. On the Thursday prior to the Sunday when I will deliver it, I review it again, tweak it and highlight key phrases (all in Microsoft Word). I save it as a PDF to my iPad app Notability, one of the best PDF markup apps available.

I preach from an iPad mini instead of paper notes. You can read about my experience with an iPad here. I go to an upstairs closet in the church and preach it out loud once. On Friday, I slowly and silently review it, further tweaking it directly on Notability. On Saturday, I preach it out loud in my bedroom closet (second practice). On Sunday morning, I practice it out loud one more time in my closet (third practice).

So I practice it out loud three times and silently tweak it twice.

I've found that this pattern allows me to best prepare without overdoing the practice.

What is your prep routine?

 

Dr. Charles Stone is Lead Pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario, Canada, and the founder of StoneWell Ministries, a pastor coaching and church consulting ministry. He is the author of four books including, "People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership" (IVP 2014), and his most recent book, “Brain-Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry” (Abingdon, May 2015).

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S Rouse

commented on Mar 28, 2015

Outstanding advice. Thanks.

William Douglas Johnson, Sr

commented on Mar 28, 2015

Thank you for your insights. We can all benefit from the voice of one who has been there and felt what we feel, how we feel. I work from a full manuscript. I also stay close to my notes. I use a few "post-it" notes along the way, for additional thoughts that the Lord gives. Bless you in the ministry.

Rw Van House

commented on Mar 28, 2015

Good process. I use to preach to the empty pews on Wednesday night, again on Friday and Saturday mornings, and finally early Sunday before the pews seat anyone. Until I was asked, "How many pews have you converted."

Lonnie Thompson

commented on Apr 4, 2015

For years I never practiced my sermons outloud. But 12 years ago when I came to my current church I did so. My wife noticed a stark improvement. Before I tended to read the sermons, but now I know it better and am able to communicate more naturally. Thanks for your advice. I totally agree.

Mark Aarssen

commented on Apr 14, 2015

Funny I've never really practised out loud. I always just review it 2 or 3 times to get the flow of the message so I can move from one point to the next smoothly. I will have to give this a try. I have only been preaching for 7 years so maybe this will freshen up my delivery. Thanks

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