For the last quarter of a century, God has blessed me with the privilege of speaking to hundreds of thousands of people across the nation, primarily through Dare 2 Share events. In addition, I’ve spoken at tons of conferences, festivals and churches to students and adults alike.
Over the years I’ve developed a list of 10 actions steps I take when I prepare for and give a talk. These help me craft and deliver messages that go for maximum spiritual impact every time. I hope they encourage you as you prepare and deliver talks that glorify God, equip the believers and reach the lost.
1. Ask God for the right passage to preach to hit the needs of your audience.
Before you exegete a text, you must exegete the needs of the audience and ask God, through his Holy Spirit, to reveal the right passage(s) to preach on. Since the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Teacher, it only makes sense to consult with Him first before you pick a passage and preach. He will reveal your audience’s felt need, real need and the passage(s) which will transform them.
2. Pray, read, study…pray, read, study…repeat until you find the “wow!”
As my good buddy, Derwin Gray, always says when he prepares and preaches a sermon, “Marinate on this!” When we marinate on the Scriptures (pray, read, study, repeat) God teaches us more and more through the limitless truths in his Holy Text! These truths will produce an “amen!” in our hearts and a “wow!” in our mouths and will convict and convince our audience in ways mere human persuasion never could.
3. Ask this question: “What one thing is the whole thing saying?”
Every passage has a subject, a verb and a driving main point. Find that point and make it the foundation of everything else you are teaching. Nobody can make a point like God, so build your sermon around His main point not yours. This is called expository preaching (unpacking the one main point of a primary passage) verses topical preaching (unpacking several key passages to make one or several points.)
Topical preaching is like a shotgun. Expository preaching is like a rifle. Both will get the job done, but one’s a little messier.
I prefer expository preaching to topical preaching because expository preaching can fully unleash the power punch of a singular text like a Bruce Lee’s fist to the chest.
4. Work on your outline until it is solidly biblical, immensely practical and easily memorable.
This is when you make your outline pretty. Making the outline flow takes a little work but is well worth the extra effort if it helps your audience remember. But, regardless of the “prettiness” of the prose and fabulousness of the flow, make sure the points are biblical, practical and as memorable as possible.
5. Add to the skeletal structure muscle, tendons and skin.
If you think of your outline as a skeleton, you’ll need to fill in the gaps with solid biblical insights (muscle), powerful transitions (tendons) and great illustrations to cover it all from top to bottom (skin).
People who downplay the importance of illustrations, specifically storytelling, must have a hard time reading the Gospels because Jesus’ teaching tool of choice was short stories. When we follow His example and communicate illustrations effectively, our audience suddenly becomes little children sitting on our laps, ready to hear a story…ready to be transformed by God’s truth.
6. Make sure you have an opener that seizes their attention and a closer that calls them to action!
When I preach I try to use an opening illustration that grabs the audience by the throat and pins them to the wall…usually laughing. My prayer for the closer is that it will leave them with a specific and powerful call-to-action that sparks true and lasting change.
7. Practice it in front of your computer and make changes to your sermon as you preach it.
I have a saying when it comes to preaching a sermon…“Bake it ‘til it’s cooked!”
How do I know if it’s cooked? I practice my sermon at home it in front of my open computer. My only audience is Patches, my miniature dachshund (who actually weighs 25 pounds). My overweight wiener dog doesn’t usually respond (I don’t think he’s saved, but, unlike a cat, he still has a chance!). But I do! I know in my heart, as I practice that sermon, whether or not the message is clicking in me.
If I preach a sermon to myself and am not moved by it, then I bake it some more. This usually means I wordsmith it on the spot. This also means writing it and sometimes re-writing portions of my sermon again right there. Then I give it another shot.
In my heart I know when my sermon is fully baked. Even then, I preach it again and again and again and adjust it until I know I’m ready to preach it to a live (human) audience.
8. Tie your shoes before you preach!
Before I preach a sermon I tie my shoes. Why? It makes me get on my knees and, once there, I ask God to fill me with His Holy Spirit. It is said of Charles Spurgeon, often called “the prince of preachers,” that he had his own ritual of filling up on the Holy Spirit before he preached. On the walk up the 15 steps to his pulpit at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, he would repeat over and over to himself, “I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
However you choose to do it, get filled with the Holy Spirit. May this be said of us as it was said of Stephen in Acts 6:15, “All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”
But, unlike Stephen, may our sermons not end with us getting stoned!
9. Find the scarlet thread in your text that leads to Jesus and pull it!
To quote the prince of preachers one more time, “I take my text and make a beeline for the cross!”
Every Spurgeon sermon ended up at the foot of the cross. So should ours.
In every passage there is a scarlet cord that leads to Jesus and his cross. Find it, pull it and preach it! Yes, give the gospel in every talk. It saves the unbeliever and sanctifies the believer! Then give the audience an opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus right then. As 2 Corinthians 6:2 reminds us, “Indeed the ‘right time’ is now. Today is the day of salvation.”
For help in sharing the gospel, check out the Dare 2 Share Field Guide! It will train you to clearly explain the Good News of Jesus to any audience!
10. Preach every sermon as if you were to die right after your closing.
I love the words of Richard Baxter, “I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.”
There have been times my wife has warned me that I need to take a breath on stage. She told me that the veins in my neck look as if they are about to explode. It’s because I want to preach with the intensity of a man about to die, about to stand before his Maker and give an account for the way I preached my sermons and lived my sermons.
Let us live, pray and preach as men and women about to die!
These are 10 keys I’ve identified to giving a talk that rocks. What are some other insights to preaching and teaching with impact?