preaching skill

Preaching: Behind the Scenes

A look into the sermon preparation of Jeremy McKeen and Paul Copan.

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Read widely

Go beyond the Bible commentaries. At any given time, each of us will be reading certain genres of books—on history, the natural world, and culture-shaping ideas (Paul) or a biography, a novel, and a book on theology (Jeremy). Doing so enhances our minds and enriches our preaching and teaching. For me (Jeremy), these three types of books help to keep my soul fresh, and without even trying, they make my preaching fresh. I'm amazed at how often something that I read in one of those genres will be just what I needed for my sermon that week. The nice thing about it is that I get to read without the pressure to produce something out of it, but often something I read will work its way into the sermon I produce.

The outline is key

Whether pastors considers themselves a "narrative" preacher, more of a linear preacher, a storyteller, or a three-points-and-a-poem type of communicator, every sermon has a beginning and an end. It has a central point aimed at taking people in a certain direction. Because of this, the sermon needs some form of an outline. We find that coming up with a good outline means that it is memorable for the listener, easy to preach from, and faithful to the text or topic that we're unpacking. Developing an effective outline is harder than it may seem, but it is one of the critical first steps in writing the sermon itself. The outline is the skeleton of the sermon, and without a strong skeleton, your sermon won't stand firm.

Use a sermon worksheet

This is a practice that a friend of mine (Jeremy's) got me into early on in my preaching, and I've always found it to be helpful. The worksheet includes a variety of questions that I've gleaned from different preachers such as Bryan Chapell, Tim Keller, Zack Eswine, and others (see below for a template of the worksheet). The worksheet forces me to answer specific questions each week. Some of these are: Is this sermon a big idea that I want to convey or a big question that I want to answer? After hearing this sermon, what do I want the people to know? How do I want them to feel, and what do I want them to do? How do I comfort the hurting, admonish the idle, confront the proud, and challenge the skeptic? What 'Christianese' terms do I need to explain—or perhaps avoid using? How do I bring the gospel into this message? How can I exalt Jesus and reinforce the mission and vision of our church? One professor (of Paul's) urged his seminary students to make the sermon both "sing" and "sting." The beneficial thing about using a worksheet is that it forces you to answer the hard questions while giving you the freedom to make it your own and adjust it as needed.

For example, in last year's Easter sermon, I used my worksheet to first discover that the sermon would be making a very big point that I needed to defend—namely, that the resurrection of Jesus is the key to finding meaning in life. I then looked at the text and developed a preachable outline. After the outline was in place, I was able to think through the remaining questions in the worksheet that helped me to "put the meat on the bones."

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