Preaching Articles

I’ve done some preaching. Sometimes it was good; sometimes it was not so good.

What was the difference? One thing stands out as the most beneficial difference in my approach. It’s so simple it’s crazy. I formed a speaking team.

I developed this practice really by accident. I grew up on the old model, the model where the pastor’s job was to prepare a message and reveal it to us on Sundays, much like a magician works for hours honing his craft only to then come out and amaze the audience with his skill. I thought that was preaching: prepare a good message and deliver it on Sunday to a crowd of people who are then wowed by it.

Typically before I spoke at church I would start to dig into the text, grab my resources and close the door to my office. I’d spend time praying through the text, searching the textual aids and even spend time working through the original languages. Now, this is good work, but it’s not the end. In fact, I would say it’s just the beginning. Because most of us are not very good magicians.

When we study and prepare in isolation we limit what we can learn. We limit what we have to say to only our own view, potentially shortchanging the congregation from experiencing other facets of what God wants to say to us.

So at one point I was stuck during my preparation. Things weren’t coming together, and I finally decided to reach out to a couple of people to talk it over. I brought what I learned and asked them to bring some of their own insights from the text. We spent an hour or so together working through it and gleaning new insights from each other. Needless to say, my energy for the preparation vastly increased after meeting with this team. And consequentially, the message was so much better.

To start with, as a result of working with this team I gained confidence in my preparation. I had done a lot of the hard work, but when the others joined in to work through it with me, I gained confidence by knowing I had put in the best effort. In addition, I knew that my ideas had been vetted. Others had an opportunity to sharpen my ideas, to help me come up with better stories, to clarify my thoughts and most importantly, to confidently walk up and deliver the message.

There was also an interesting “side effect” I wasn’t prepared for. When I delivered the message, there were familiar faces in the crowd nodding their heads. My confidence in delivery increased yet even more as I noted the people who were agreeing with me. Looking out in the congregation, I knew my team was supporting me, and because we had worked together, it brought a peace and certainty to the message.

So, here’s my checklist.

1. Plan. I can’t overemphasize the need to plan ahead of time. Start today. Meditate on the theme, think about the audience, think about your delivery method, gather your stories and spend the time needed to get ready.

2. Identify your team. I would suggest 2–4 people you trust—-but who may not share all of your views. These people will challenge your thinking and ask you good questions that will allow your presentation to be that much better.

3. Give your team the details ahead of time. There’s nothing like showing up at the appointed time and being asked to provide brilliance. If you want people to bring their “A” game, then give them the space to do so by giving them information up front.

4. Schedule a group time and then honor the allotted time. If you say you need an hour from people, honor the hour and work as hard as you can during the hour. Even if the conversation is good, provide a breaking point where people can leave. Honoring everyone’s time will be a catalyst for getting together again, especially if there is more conversation to be had.

5. Take notes. It’s one thing to ask for others help and it’s another thing to truly digest it. Taking notes shows your interest and how much you value what each team member is bringing to the table. You’ll also find so much more learning when you can reflect on what you’ve written down in the notes. It’s one of the reasons I love to journal and re-read what I’ve written.

6. Provide recognition. Everyone likes to know they are appreciated. Identify what would be most meaningful to each team member and recognize them in those ways. Maybe it’s a Starbucks gift card, a “shout-out” during the message, flowers or an iTunes card. Remember these are investments in people who have made an investment in you and your work.

7. Go back and spend the time processing, digesting and working through what you’ve learned. Apply it and finalize your message.

8. Deliver your message with confidence.

9. Seek feedback. We often miss this one because we think the job is done. Go back to the same 2–4 people and ask how it went. Did I hit all the points? Did it make sense? Was it coherent? Again, take notes, as these will be valuable for the next time.

Your preaching doesn’t need to be a magic show. It does, however, need to be worked, refined and delivered well.

How about you? What tips would you have for delivering your message?

Sean Hamon spent over 15 years in business management, where he remains a highly regarded and sought after leader. Taking his business acumen and combining it with a lifelong passion for ministry, he seamlessly made the transition into non-profit and pastoral ministry in both lay and vocational settings. Throughout his entire career, Sean has brought to each role an intentionality that looks to pull out the greatest potential in both the organization and those who serve it. He has the unique and inherent ability to see and ask the big picture questions that lead to improved team structures. When not working with people, you can find Sean either busy in his woodworking shop or spending time reading, building websites, biking, hiking or waterskiing.

Talk about it...

Richard Scotland

commented on Sep 15, 2014

Penn and Teller! Apart from that silly comment by me I agree with much of what is said. I would add that it may be useful to have more than one team, so no one is being pressured week after week, plus it involves more of the congregation over a period of time, which may be a good side effect too. Feedback is very important and I am glad to see it included too. Great article which hits the mark for me, thanks.

Sean Hamon

commented on Sep 15, 2014

Richard, Thanks so much for your comment. I fully agree with your assessment and I did the same. I never wanted to "wear out" the team. The real value add was, as you mentioned, getting more of the congregation involved. Blessings!

Pat Damiani

commented on Sep 15, 2014

I have a men's Bible study morning where we just talk about the text I'm going to preach on that week - no commentaries, no one else's sermons. That is the start of my sermon preparation each week and I've found it to be invaluable. I get to see what questions people might have on the text and get some other viewpoints. And then I "reward" those who participate by sharing my sermon outline with them later in the week. I know that those men who participate in the process in that way get a great deal out of the message.

Sean Hamon

commented on Sep 15, 2014

Hi Pat. Great idea! I love that you involve others in your prep and then in the sermon outline later. What a great way to reward and build up the men in your group. Blessings!

Andrew Benedict

commented on Sep 15, 2014

Awesome Article Sean,I've done bible studies by picking up a topic or a specific bible portion initiate it by presenting my views and then allow others to give theirs but this is the first time I've heard of involving a group for a sermon preparation ,awesome it is!!

Sean Hamon

commented on Sep 16, 2014

Thanks Andrew for the positive feedback. I found it to be very, very effective and we all learned more together.

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