Reflections from an untrained beginner on preparing and delivering a sermon

I’m exhausted.  I was up at 6:15 this morning and spoke in our church this morning and then we spent the afternoon with some old acquaintances/new friends.  No Sunday afternoon nap means I probably won’t do any heavy reading tonight.  Instead, maybe a little light reading and some Hebrew translation.

I’m reflecting back on my sermon this morning.  It certainly wasn’t my best sermon. Other than accidentally missing some of the stuff in my notes–useful, clarifying stuff, but not a deal-breaker–I think the presentation of it was ok (but not great).  But I did learn some lessons–and I am still a student of the sermon.

Earlier this week I was talking to a classmate about the homiletics (“preaching 101”) classes he took and what kinds of things he retained from those classes.  He noted specifically that one of the most valuable things he learned was that you need to have a clear concept or point you are trying to express–in other words, make sure your sermon is focused, much like it’s good to have a clear thesis statement when writing a paper (something which I’m pretty sure I’ve never had).  That may not seem profound, but strangely enough, lack of focus was my biggest problem this time around.  I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t say it clearly and so the message may have come across rambly and disjointed.  As I was preparing, I kept thinking I was heading towards focus, but I never really got there.

I need to learn to filter out the extraneous material.  It is sometimes tempting to cram as much material in as you can find. Even if the material may be relevant or applicable to a passage, it may not be useful to communicate a particular message.  In fact, too much material may actually obscure the message.

Also, I think early in the preparation I should not hold too tightly to what may seem at the time to be  a good idea. If an idea gets cemented in my mind as a good idea too early in the process, it may actually derail the rest of the process because I will feel compelled to force all other ideas to fit with or around the original idea.  That usually doesn’t work.  To a degree, I think that was the case this time around.

The second thing which became apparent to me is something which I’m not sure how to resolve.  I became aware this morning that I was not really “present” as I spoke, and thinking back, I’m not sure that I have ever been.  By this I mean that I am speaking but not really self-aware that I’m preaching; using my notes but not really being aware of using my notes (in fact, shortly after sitting down I wondered if I had missed a page); looking at the listeners but not really seeing them.  Does that make sense?  I don’t like getting to the end of a sermon and realizing that I wasn’t really present for 20 minutes or more of speaking.

Maybe the solution is simply to relax and try to engage the listeners.  Perhaps it would also help to be more familiar with the sermon you’ve prepared–that is, have it more or less done a day or two before it is to be spoken and then run over it several times.  And then maybe use a very rough outline of the sermon when speaking, rather than referring to a manuscript.  I tried using an outline this morning, but I went back to the manuscript fairly quickly.  That was, I think, a combination of nerves and not being familiar enough with the material.

Lessons learned. I hope I remember them next time around.

6 thoughts on “Reflections from an untrained beginner on preparing and delivering a sermon

  1. Erik

    Mr. Marc,

    I just wanted to say i thought your word was very timely, clear and challenging. Or to say it another way a word from the Word. It is interesting that i have so badly wanted to make some of those observations (particularly the “where is God in tragedy” stuff) but never could quite articulate it and so bailed out. Thank you for those as a friend they spoke to me deeply. Truth be told i had that out of body experience where i thought to myself “I could totally see Marc up here every week”. Well i still need a paycheque so that may need to wait but thank you and if you are up for it i would love to see you as a regular contributor.

    i should buy you a beer sometime soon.

    thanks again

  2. Marc Post author

    Thanks, Erik. That’s encouraging. I’m always surprised at how differently I perceive things as a speaker compared to how people hear and receive it.

  3. Linea

    Those are interesting observations about your sermon and the process of preparing it. Does the preparation feel much different than preparing a paper for class to you? Just curious because you make some of the same sounding comments sometimes about papers you have to hand in.

    I wonder too about the sermon. What makes it good? Is it so much what I say or the role of the Spirit before during its preparation – bringing a good idea to mind or making me passionate about some topic – or during the hearing as the Spirit takes the words and makes them come to life for someone?

    And then I wonder too, will formal training in preaching kill my dependence on God for help? I hope not but I wonder if I do things right, or not?

  4. Gavin

    I’m sure you’ll be up front bringing forth the Word at FCC again soon…. Erik, Cody, and I are all young in this stuff too and it’s always good to learn along with people. We’re grateful to have you as a part of this faith community, and thankful that you can contribute to the faith journey of the saints in this way.

    I was appreciative of the way you called me and the rest of the community to a hopeful faith in Jesus, even amidst choas. Thank you.

  5. Marc

    Linea: I do find it somewhat like writing a paper, but I enjoy sermon preparation more, probably because they don’t require all the technical stuff like footnoting, etc. and the manuscript doesn’t need to be polished.

    I’ve wondered the same thing about homiletics classes, but more along the lines of them removing the “me” out of sermons: that is, if they present a particular way in which a sermon is to be prepared and presented, will I end up forming myself to fit into that particular mold–will I start preaching sermons as if I were someone else?.

    Gavin: Thanks. Also encouraging.

  6. Don Hendricks

    What to go Marc. Just do it. As you become a regular teacher/preacher you will try many techniques and methods, and if you are real and connected, your own method and style will develop. For many years my outlines would flow across the page with indents, helping me to follow each point. 15 years ago, I read, How to preach without notes, and it became my great desire, which lead for me to discipline in preparation and freedom in delivery.

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