I’ve served in ministry over 30 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. I’d like to suggest a few benefits from practice and describe my practice/
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 eight hours of sleep and go into a semi-comatose 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 slowly. 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.
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).
Improvement: When I practice my message, I notice how I can say things differently, which improves what I eventually do say.
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.
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.
Memory: Although I don’t memorize my messages (I work from a complete manuscript), the more I practice, the more it embeds into my subconscious, which frees me to connect better with the congregation through eye contact and body language when I deliver it.
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. 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 it 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?