Continued from Part 2 where the discussion was about computer programs that are helpful to the modern minister.
3. Plan your preaching ahead.
It has been noted that half the task of sermon preparation is deciding what to preach. Before I started short and long term planning, I concurred. Now I seldom have to worry about this "first half." It's done weeks or even months ahead. Occasionally, when I see the need or just have a burning issue I want to address, I alter my strategy, but for the most part I stick to my plan.
I like to plan my preaching six months ahead. I prefer expository series preaching for the most part, though I also insert topical and textual sermons between series. Expository preaching is most often built around a book or chapter of the Bible or a biographical sketch of a Bible character. Sometimes, too, a series might cover various aspects of a specific topic.
The benefits of expository preaching are numerous. (1) You always know what you are going to preach next. (2) You are forced to preach on things you might not deal with otherwise. (3) You grow because you are constantly discovering new truth, not just regurgitating what you already know. (4) You preach it in the same context and order the Holy Spirit revealed it. (5) People who hear you will become familiar with the context of the Bible, not just what you have concluded about the Bible.
In an article entitled, "The Value of Expository Preaching and Teaching", Roger Johnson laments: "All too often the biblical passage read to the congregation resembles the national anthem played at sporting events. It gets things started but it is not referred to again during the lesson. The authority behind preaching resides not in the preacher but in the biblical texts."
I certainly agree.
For planning, I use a paper chart with blank boxes for each Sunday of the year. At first I pencil in general areas I'd like to cover. I might map out 5 weeks and call it "The Life of Elisha." Then I might leave a couple of blank spaces for topical work, then pencil in a series on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Next might come a pulpit exchange with an area minister, followed by a couple of topics, then a series on the eldership. For the most part I stick to this schedule, though I may vary on occasion. By knowing what I am going to preaching for the next six months, I can begin a leisurely pace of collecting material for the coming messages. For instance, knowing I'm going to preach a series on the Holy Spirit in three months, I pick up a book on the subject, collect some possibly helpful illustrations, keep notes of a sermon I heard that challenged me and do some reading in my personal devotions that pertains to the subject. By the time I'm ready to start the actual preparation I have a good file of material and perhaps have even drawn up an outline for the series.
A major key to taking away the drudgery of preparation is to stay ahead of the game. It builds confidence and a feeling of security that contributes to the overall effort.
4. Join a sermon study group.
Can a sermon be produced by a committee? Probably not, but a sermon study group may improve your preaching.
I have been participating in sermon study groups off and on for about ten years. I'm sold on the idea as a means to bringing preachers and preaching out of the doldrums. The concept is quite simple. Three or four preachers decide to work together on an expository series. At the first meeting they decide what they want to preach. The assignment is made for the following meeting to divide up the agreed upon sections of scripture into weekly preaching portions. Once the portions are agreed upon at the next meeting, assignments are given to each participant to be completed for the next week's portion. The way it has worked in the groups I have attended is this: One gets outlines, one gets exposition, one gets illustrations, and one does work in the original language. Anyone is free to range beyond his assignment (and usually does) but must be ready to share the findings of his work in written or typed form at the next meeting. We generally meet in a restaurant (be sure to leave the waitress a big tip!) have lunch, then share and discuss our findings for the next several hours. Each man takes home a complete set of the notes provided by all four who have done research. He then proceeds to write his own sermon, based on his research and that of the group.
There are several benefits of this kind of study. First, it allows you to share with others who do what you do on a level that is seldom done otherwise. Second, it sharpens you as you match wits with other group members. Third, you have the benefit of a small research team. Fourth, you are stretched in your understanding of preaching as you watch and see how others go about their preparation.
I don't do this kind of preparation all the time, but several series per year done this way injects a vitality in my preparation that wasn't there before. Besides, it's fun!
5. Break up your task into logical parts.
"By the mile it's a trial, by the inch it's a cinch," goes the old saying. Preparing a weekly sermon (or two) is a mile, but it can be broken down into inches.
I try to keep the following schedule in my preparation each week.
Monday: Decide on preaching portion and theme. Read the portion through many times. Look for homiletic clues. Pray.
Tuesday: Outline the passage, do personal study and commentary work. Pray.
Wednesday: Settle on central idea, final outline, and main points. Collect illustrations. Pray.
Thursday: Write sermon draft. Name the sermon. Pray. [Recently I read an interesting item in the newspaper that illustrates the importance of mental associations in naming sermons. A high school in Virginia offered a course called "Home Economics for Boys." Needless to say, it got little attention. So the following year it was renamed "Bachelor Living"" You guessed it! The effect was overwhelming. 120 boys promptly signed up. The curriculum never changed. It still offered traditional instruction in cooking, sewing, laundry, and money management. But it needed the right image before the students would give the class a second look. When you name your sermon, you package it. Make the package attractive.]
Friday: Go fishing, mow the lawn, and take the wife to dinner. Don't write sermons. Pray.
Saturday: Finalize sermon and prepare support material (overheads, handouts, etc.) Pray.
Sunday: Go over sermon in early morning, pray and preach!
I find that if I am successful each day at doing each of these chores, the load lightens considerably. If I can get a little ahead, it is that much better.
6. Listen to or read the preaching of others.
I listen often to the preaching of others. A cassette tape or CD is nearlyalways loaded into the tape deck of my car. I subscribe to several sermon services and I receive tapes from a few men whom I know put out good material on a regular basis. I listen both for style and content. I get ideas as I listen. Lately I have been reading sermons I find on the World Wide Web. Though the quality of some of these could stand improvement, things are changing for the better. Insights from all of these sources are studiously recorded in a notebook for later use.
Let me clarify here that I seldom preach the material of others "as is." I will, however, find and use illustrations and special ways of expressing things.
7. Find a mentor or a peer who will challenge you.
If you are having trouble (and maybe even if you aren't) find an older preacher who communicates well in the pulpit and take him to lunch. Bring along a tape, CD, or manuscript of one of your better sermons and ask him if he will critique it for you. Most men will probably be willing to do this as a start. If things work out, consider asking him to work with you for awhile, helping you to become a better communicator. Ask questions. And yes, keep buying the lunch!
Above all, if you want to see the drudgery leave your sermon preparation, try to stay ahead of things. With your planning ahead, your collecting material ahead, and your thinking ahead, you'll find you look forward to your preparation time. In fact, that's where I'm headed just as soon as I'm finished translating this article for the web. I can't wait for Sunday 'cause I have an outline and a couple of illustrations that I know are going to preach!
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