(Thanks to Alex Baker at Cake or Death for this cartoon)
I have been preaching for about three years now, and it still scares me. I think they day it stops scaring me is the day I stop doing it, because that means I am not taking it seriously enough.
What I want to talk about today is not three things that make me a great preacher, or three things that make my sermons great. I want to talk about three things I ask myself while writing each sermon.
These three questions are what I use to determine if I am preaching the right sermon, and whether I should even be preaching at all.
1.What type of message is it?
There are different types of sermons. Some are focused on a theme, and use scriptures to back them up. Some start with a Bible Reading, and just look at what it means. Some tell a story from personal experience, and talk about my faith journey.
If I am doing a textual analysis, then I spend more time on the history and context of the book, the chapter, and the people involved.
If I am preaching on a theme, then I try to move quicker through the reading itself.
If I am talking from personal experience… then I really examine it to decide whether it is a sermon, or simply a re-hash of my testimony.
Not all sermons have three points, and start with the same letters. Some are just focused on helping us to understand what a verse or chapter means. The earliest sermons started when the Religious Leader would sit down after reading a scroll, and explain what it meant.
Before I present a sermon, I always ask myself, “What is this supposed to be, and why should people listen to it?” This helps to overcome the mistake of making it something it is not.
2. Who am I talking to?
I do not mean what is the demographic of my congregation, or their spiritual awareness level, or anything like that. I always ask myself: Is this message for me as well, or just for them?
I never preach a message I do not need to preach to myself first.
If it sounds too much like it is for the benefit of those around me, and not for me, then I ask myself, “Why am I preaching this?”
I hears preaching referred to once as “One beggar telling another beggar where he can find a feast,” and I always liked that. I think the temptation for a great many of us is to stand up and think that we have something to share, or something worth hearing, and that temptation leads us to preach down at people.
I read my sermons over and over, and look for tell-tale signs like saying “You need to” instead of “I think we need to” or saying “People do this” instead of saying “I find that I do this, and maybe you do to.”
If, at the end, I cannot answer the question “How will I apply this to my life today?” then I throw it all away and try something different.
3. How many Sermons am I preaching?
This might sound obvious, but it is amazing how many times I have gone back over what I have written, and realised that I am actually preaching three sermons.
Just this week I preached from the first book of Joshua, and spent some great time digging deep into the word. I discovered amazing parallels between the Book of Joshua and the Book of Acts, I developed interesting (to me) connections between the person of Joshua and Jesus, I saw interesting lessons in the story of how Joshua came to be the person he was, I saw useful lessons in bravery, and how to use our Bibles, and how to follow God’s commands, and….
..and once I had written it all, the introduction was longer than the sermon itself, and the concluding points were so full of meat that I was forced to cut 75% of my sermon out so that I could focus on just these points. I even had to cut down the points, because each one was so packed with information, that it was a sermon in itself.
It was painful. What I had was a sermon that would keep me interested for about 3 hours. However, even though my sermons are always preached to myself first, I need to realise that other people are listening in. People who would lose interest after the third or fourth “”.. and this is interesting because, in the original Hebrew…” or “… and if you go back to the older prophecy, you will see that…”.
I had to stick to three points, support them with scripture, make them personal, and then shut up!
These three questions have helped me in every sermon I ever preached, and every Bible Study I ever wrote or presented, and every article or blog post or comment I have ever made.
I hope there is something useful for you as well.
But you know how much I love talking to myself.