I’ve served in ministry over 35 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. In this article I 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 8 hours of sleep at night, and go into a semi-comotose 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 slow. 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.
Even with my limitations, I’ve discovered that practicing my sermon yields several benefits:
1. 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).
2. Improvement: When I practice my message, I notice how I can say things differently which improves what I eventually do say.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Memory: Although I don’t memorize my messages (I work from a complete manuscript), the more I practice, the more it imbeds into my subconscious which frees me to connect better with the congregation through eye contact and body language when I deliver it.
6. 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.
Here’s my routine:
• 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 in 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?
This article originally appeared on CharlesStone.com.