5. Create a strong beginning and ending
Like a novelist, a speaker takes listeners on a journey and we speak to each other in ‘movies’ often…. so create a strong ‘hook’ and make sure people are with you, that they want to hear what you have to say next. And can’t wait! But, perhaps the weakest element of most sermons I hear is the ending, the “so what?” element. Most sermons are content-heavy so the speaker feels that the dispensing of information is sufficient. Wrong. What is is that you’re asking them to do? How do they do that? (this is a very important question to ask) And… does your ending help you accomplish your teaching aim.
6. Bring life through illustrations
This helps with the novel element of the previous point. So, for each main statement, how can you bring ‘life’ to it, showing people how your point connects to real life? Not just stories from your past, not movie clips, but illustrative elements. In fact, you ought to be changing what you do every 7 minutes. I don’t always accomplish this, but I try to make sure every 7 minutes I change in some way by inserting a story, showing media, or drawing an illustration.
7. After letting it set a day, go through it again
I believe you have to sleep on it a night and edit it again. This means you need to be done with your preparations two days in advance!
8. Practice it out loud
Never never never skip this step. Always make your ears hear what your mind tells your mouth to say. Your ears are your best editors you have. In fact, I tell my students to read their papers out loud before they hand them in. My dad used to go “preach to the pews” (or to the garden in summers) every Saturday night and that is a non-negotiable for me now. I even did it for youth talks on Wednesday nights. If you’re a ‘professional’ and speaking is one of your main functions, why would you want your ‘rehearsal’ to be your first service? Never never never skip this step.
As your ears tell you where you’re weak (i.e. opening, ending, transitions, too much information packed in), edit edit edit. You may need to practice it again out loud to make sure you’ve got it right.
10. Keep praying
Even though we are doing all of the preparations, the final element of ministry is that we are truly God-bearers and participating in a ministry of the Holy Spirit and God grants the ‘victory’ (Proverbs 21:31).
Well, those are mine. What did I miss? What process do you employ for preparing for a good sermon/talk?
Terry Linhart speaks, writes, and teaches on a variety of subjects related to youth ministry, leadership, global youth topics, communication, and qualitative research. Terry teaches at Bethel College in Indiana where he also serves as Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy. He earned his Ph.D. (Purdue University) in Curriculum & Instruction with an emphasis on multicultural and cross-cultural curriculum studies. His writing and research has focused on youth ministry, cross-cultural dynamics, leadership effectiveness, globalization, global youth, and effective communication and ministry in multicultural contexts.