Preaching: Behind the Scenes
A look into the sermon preparation of Jeremy McKeen and Paul Copan.
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Preaching is a lot like giving birth. While we've never given birth to a baby ourselves, as fathers we've made every effort to support our wives during the pregnancy process and have learned a lot of things along the way. One of those was that everyone celebrates the baby, but barely anyone focuses on the demands of the pregnancy and delivery. This is the case with so many things: the practice and rigorous training of an athlete before a popular sporting event, all the details and work that go into a celebrated piece of art—the list could go on. The same could be said of preaching. Everyone hears the sermon, but rarely do people know all that happens behind the scenes. Randy Richards—a biblical scholar and colleague of Paul's—is sometimes asked after preaching, "How long did it take you to prepare that sermon?" Randy replies, "Oh, about thirty years."
So what are some of the things that go into the making of a solid sermon? Much could be said here, but below are some of the "behind the scenes" principles that we try to work through step-by-step in our preparation to preach.
Spend time with the sheep
It's amazing how many examples or illustrations make it into my (Jeremy's) sermon that begin with, "This past week I was talking with … " Preachers need to remember that we're not crafting a generic sermon; as with the New Testament Epistles, we're communicating God's message to a very particular people. So, the more time you can spend with those people, the better it will help you to craft a message that relates to them. Someone said it this way, "Great preaching springs from two wells—life among the people and time alone with God." By doing this you get to know your people and can speak to the different types of listeners that are in your congregation. Your practical listeners are asking, "How/Now what?" The skeptical listeners are asking, "Why/How so?" Your simple listeners are asking, "What/Please explain?" While the analytical listeners are asking, "What if/What about this?" Simply put, faithful shepherds always smell like their sheep.
Spend time with those who are not yet sheep
Another way to maintain a fresh flow of preaching material is from spending social time with unbelievers. Pastors often live insulated lives, restricting themselves to the "holy huddle." As a result, they know little about life outside of the church, and their preaching will reflect this—using a Christian lingo and in-house illustrations that will likely yield out-of-touch sermons and discourage members from inviting unbelievers to a sermon that seems irrelevant to them. Being a "friend of sinners" is not only part of the pastor's responsibility to be salt and light; it also models lifestyle evangelism for our hearers as well as makes our preaching more engaging and in tune with the needs and concerns of our community, society, and world.
Jeremy McKeen and Paul Copan: