I listen to a lot of messages and preachers - I like to to stay sharpened, be stretched, challenged and encouraged as well as to hear what the Spirit of God is saying to others.
But there's something I've noticed...if we're not careful, we can easily start sounding like ourselves and not like God. The problem is that sounding like ourselves often means we're bringing "day old bread" to the platform when God has something fresh and piping hot to be delivered.
I challenge preachers to listen to themselves...if you revert to preaching about political/current affairs often and with ease, you may just be sounding like yourself...if you revert to telling some of the Old Testament stories and making them applicable to every message, you may just be sounding like yourself...if you spend a lot of time preaching about how people are living, what's wrong with "folks today" or if you spend a lot of time drawing up nice do/don't do lists, you may just be sounding like yourself.
Am I saying..."don't preach about current affairs," etc...No! What I'm saying is that if that becomes FILLER for the majority of your message, then I challenge and encourage you to withdraw for a longer time in preparation and hear more clearly from God.
Here are some lessons I've learned:
- Preaching/teaching more than 2 times per week is crazy! In fact, it's crazy stupid! I can almost promise most preachers that are doing this (because that's what we've always done) are horribly being UNDER utilized for God's purpose - much better to allow them to preach once (twice maybe or occasionally), hear clearly from God the direction He wants to take the entire service and have a divine Word that is applicable and life-changing.
- Come loaded for bear - each week I preached about 65-70 percent of my notes. I simply had too much - but I was ready! And that's the key - preparation is work (and to me it's fun) and it can't be taken too lightly. My view on this is that a lot of the "extra" that I didn't preach was most likely for me - it gives me the ability to preach from the "overflow" of what God is doing.
- Don't wait till the last minute - once in this series I ended up waiting until Saturday for the majority of my preparation. I spent 13 hours preparing for a sermon and a Sunday school lesson I would teach that one morning. By the way, this was due to sickness in our family...I did some casual reading through the week and prayed a lot about the direction for Sunday - but yes, it took me 13 hours of prep for approx 90 minutes (total) of preaching/teaching. This past week I prepared all week and by Friday was about 95% finished. It gave me the freedom to enjoy a college football game on Saturday with just a bit of tying up the loose ends late Saturday night.
- Sweat the outline - I have moved away from worrying so much about my word-for-word preaching/teaching event - I'm more concerned with making sure the outline is what God wants...that it takes people from one place to another...that it flows (not that it's an acronym or uses alliteration)...and that it's accurate for the main theme of the message.
- Develop a main theme - for me this is probably where I spend the majority of my "prayer time", "hearing from God time" and "creative thinking time" - yes, I literally sit and "think" of different ways of saying the "main thing" that I want to communicate - when I land on it, that becomes my main theme and the outline typically flows or revolves around that. For instance, the first week was "When reality sets in, we have to let the Remedy set it" - I said that probably at least 8-10 times in my message and it framed my outline. It's the "takeaway" that I wanted people to have at the end of the day.
- Sweat the transition - this is where most people are lost - transition. Transitions are key and when I'm reviewing my notes before preaching, I spend MORE time thinking through and perhaps even preaching through the transition either out loud or going over it in my head. Transitions tie things together and take us from place to place. It's like visiting Disney, but riding the monorail to get to the theme park - the monorail is fun to ride and builds anticipation at arriving at the destination - so should our transitions.
- Have some passion - passion is a missing element in many preachers. It could be because not enough time was spent in preparation or because the preacher is not able to preach from "the overflow" (by the way, that's really difficult to describe, but once you've experienced it, you'll understand). Passion is not yelling, talking fast or adding "uhhhh" to the end of each word. Passion is seen and communicated when you BELIEVE what you're saying is from God and for this moment. When you believe you have God's Word for God's timing, it's easy to be passionate.