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?

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