What I’m Learning About Preaching

Preaching is one of my primary tasks as a pastor. So, it’s something I must continually develop (see Developing the Preaching Gift and Honing My Craft).

In Doing Church as a Team, Wayne Cordeiro writes, “When we stop learning, we just stop.” Cordeiro relates the story of Jigoro Kano, who …

founded the art of Judo and became the highest ranking black belt in this world-renowned sport. Nearing his death, Kano made one last request of his students. He asked that they bury him wearing a white belt, the symbol of a beginner, a learner. (11)

We should all be learners!

A number of years ago, I heard John Maxwell teach a Maximum Impact Club lesson on systems. Systems are simply routines for accomplishing certain tasks. They are uniquely personal, even quirky. The key is to find something that works for you!

What follows are some of the systems I’ve developed over the years related to preaching approach, the use of notes, and sermon preparation.

Preaching Approach
I started out in a preaching class in college more than 23 years ago. I learned the typical outline format of multiple main points with multiple sub-points. Within a few years, I transitioned to more of a Rick Warren-approach where all of the main points are action steps. In 2006, I transitioned to Andy Stanley’s one-point preaching approach, which I’ve been using and developing ever since (see 5 Years of One-Point Preaching).

More recently, I’ve also been learning from Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate. I’ve written a number of posts on the book; the latest one includes links to the others, so begin with “Resonate”: Bringing It All together. Duarte’s work fits well with Stanley’s one-point preaching approach.

Use of Sermon Notes
I once wrote about my use of sermon notes. I’ve also shared about the attitude of early Methodists on preaching with notes.

Basically, I’m trying to use fewer and fewer notes. Early on, I wrote or typed extensive notes, but over the years, I have scaled back, dramatically. StoryMapping was part of that journey.

Since switching to one-point preaching, my notes have been pretty minimalistic. Nowadays, my notes normally fit on a single post-it. My goal is to use the fewest notes possible. When I have too many notes, I generally feel too inhibited, too scripted.

Sermon Preparation
The area I’ve been focused on the most lately is sermon preparation. In fact, my sermon preparation is currently the best it’s ever been!

I’m still developing the The 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation. I’m trying to extend this process over a longer period of time.

I used to write out my sermons on a computer either as a manuscript or extremely detailed notes. Later, I started using mind-mapping in my preparation (hence, StoryMapping). The sermon files on my computer from this phase are not very extensive; they’re simply the maps I created for my sermon notes.

In the last year or so, I have been using post-its to map out the content for my sermons (see StoryMapping Revisited). The downside of this approach is that I don’t have a digital file of my sermon (but I rarely ever refer to previous sermons, anyway).

My current strategy (i.e., the 4 Ss) for sermon preparation involves …

  1. SOAKING in the Scripture texts of upcoming sermons a few weeks ahead of time. I generally do this Monday through Thursday, and I use an app called iAnnotate. This allows me to hit the ground running by the time I get to the Study phase.
  2. STUDYING the text on the Monday before I preach the sermon.
  3. SHAPING the sermon on Tuesday and Wednesday. Using Duarte’s terms, Tuesdays are for “divergent thinking” (brainstorming) and Wednesdays are for “convergent thinking” (pulling it together and building the message around a big idea).
  4. SIMMERING by letting the sermon sit for a while. I may polish the map a bit on Thursday, but I will let it rest until Saturday morning when I work on reviewing and internalizing the message.

Interestingly, I recently heard Pete Scazzero in an online webinar talk about the sermon prep process in terms of birth, death, and resurrection. As I understand it, birth represents the initial idea or inspiration. Death occurs after study and the discovery of many possible directions in which the sermon could go. Resurrection happens when a big idea emerges from the heap of ideas. For me, I’m finding that death usually occurs after I’ve done divergent thinking and there are many possible ideas on the board. Resurrection happens after convergent thinking brings back focus.

Next Steps
As I said, this is a journey. I must keep growing because there’s always a better way!

  1. I will continue developing, honing, and/or changing my systems. In other words, I will continue to look for better ways of doing things.
  2. I will re-read Resonate by Nancy Duarte. There’s so much there; it’s going to take time to process and incorporate it!
  3. I may continue to try to work further ahead.

  4. I will look into using Evernote as a tool for gathering and collecting digital information. A number of preachers and communicators recommend Evernote.

  5. I will look into ways to store and track some basics like sermon titles, texts, bottom lines (sticky statements), illustrations, S.T.A.R. Moments, etc. Evernote could be used for this as well.

Well, this is what I’m learning, so far. If you’re a preacher or communicator, I hope this is helpful to you. What are you learning?

Prayers for the Church: Endurance

The Church needs endurance!

I’m writing a series of prayers for the Church, offering a prayer on a different topic each week. So far, I’ve prayed for awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, power, and favor.

Endurance is an essential quality for followers of Jesus. And, it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Last Thursday, I preached about Jesus’ determination, persistence, and endurance (see Nothing Kept Jesus From the Cross). Yesterday’s sermon focused on persistence in prayer. Endurance is required!

O God, thank you for calling us and sending us into the world as witnesses of Jesus Christ!

We are witnesses of Jesus, who was crucified, buried, and then raised from the dead. Jesus said if the world hated him, it will hate us, too. Because of this, we need endurance!

Thank you, Jesus, for enduring the cross for the sake of the joy before you. Help us to keep our eyes fixed on you so that we will be able to endure the trials we face as your people in the world!

Your church is engaged in battle, not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of the evil one. Empower us to stand strong, dressed in your armor. Help us to keep moving forward as we advance your kingdom!

Thank you, Lord, that the gates of hell will not be able to stand against your Church. Thank you for being with us until the end of the age. And, thank you for sending your Spirit to be with us always. With your help, O God, we will endure to the end! Amen.

Nothing Kept Jesus From the Cross

Today, I spoke at our local ministerium’s weekly Lenten Lunch service (services last from 12:05 to 12:30, followed by lunch in a different church each week during Lent). Today, we were at West Side UMC, where my wife is the pastor. It was a rare opportunity for the two of us to serve together.

This year, we used Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours That Changed the World as a guide. My topic, “Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate,” came from Mark 15.1-15.

Here is a thumbnail sketch of my sermon …

The Bible describes life as a race—not a sprint, but a lifelong marathon. The race is long. There are days when our lungs burn, our legs are ready to give out, and every fiber of our being is ready to quit. Life is a race, and it takes determination!

Jesus modeled determination in his race, especially as he neared the finish line!

From the time Jesus began preparing his disciples for what would happen in Jerusalem to the Last Supper, where Jesus told his disciples about the bread being his body and the cup containing his blood given for them. Jesus was determined to go to the cross!

Nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God!

After the supper, Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He began to feel crushed, but I don’t believe he was looking for Plan B. He was preparing himself for the last leg of the race. Jesus, fully God and fully human, had to fully surrender himself for the end of the race. Jesus was determined to go to the cross. Nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God!

When Jesus was captured and interrogated by the religious leaders, he clearly showed his determination to go to the cross. When he was interrogated by Pilate, he remained virtually silent. He didn’t defend himself because he was determined to finish his race. Nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God!

After the crowd chose Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus, Jesus’ fate was sealed. Jesus was finally headed to the cross, his finish line!

Nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God! That’s how much God loves us!

I’ve always loved what Max Lucado wrote …

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart. What about the Christmas gift he sent you in Bethlehem; not to mention that Friday at Calvary. Face it, friend, he’s crazy about you.

What I’m asking us to do–what I think God asks us to do–in response, is to return the favor.

In Hebrews 11, the writer talks about a number of people who ran their race with determination. In Hebrews 12, the writer talks about the most important race ever. Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before him. In other words, nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God!

The writer to the Hebrews offers a couple of challenges: 1) we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us, and 2) we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus!

If we’re going to run our race with determination, persistence, and endurance; if we’re going to reach our finish line in a way that honors God, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus!

Prayers for the Church: Favor

The Church needs favor!

I’m writing a series of prayers for the Church, offering a prayer on a different topic each week. So far, I’ve prayed for awakening, transformational leaders, urgency, hope, health, compassion, action, unity, and power.

With God’s favor, anything is possible!

O God, we belong to you. You have called us and sent us to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world!

Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to empower us. Now, we pray for your favor and blessing.

Too often, Lord, we depend on other things and also on ourselves. Help us rely on you and seek your favor above all else.

Give us favor with the people you call us to reach, the people who live in our communities, especially the people far away from you.

Give us favor also with one another, the people you call us to be in ministry with, especially the leaders and influencers in our churches. Help us work together and do whatever is necessary to advance your mission in the world.

With your favor, O God, we can do whatever you send us to do, for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ! Amen.