I love the art and craft of preaching. However, I have heard sermons that were almost painful to sit through, as well as those sermons that inspired and sparked my interest. The difference seemed to be preparation. In sermons that were inspirational, the preacher carefully used words in ways to convey the message that gave your mind something to hold onto for the coming week. The sermons that were painful were often ill-prepared and the congregation could tell.
Once, a veteran preacher, speaking to novice preachers, told about a particularly busy week in his ministry—there had been a funeral, a couple of meetings, hospital visits, and pastoral counseling sessions, not to mention time with his family. The demands on his time had led him to a late Saturday evening looking at the text for the next day. He had not prepared at all for the sermon. With a prayer tossed to heaven before heading to bed, he was certain that without preparation on his part, the Holy Spirit would impart a divine word of wisdom at the moment needed. “As I stepped to the pulpit,” he said, “sure enough the Spirit of God spoke to my heart. ‘You should have prepared.’”
There are times when a preacher can spend hours in study and writing and still be unprepared. Effective sermon preparation isn’t only about the amount of time you spend working a sermon, being prepared is also about the effectiveness of delivery and appropriateness of the content for the audience. It is discouraging when you spend precious time on work that falls flat in front of the congregation. All that work is for nothing when it doesn’t help to convey the message given to those who are listening.
“The message you are given is yours to give, so use the voice God gave you.”
There is more that goes into being prepared to give a sermon–or any talk for that matter–than merely knowing your subject. When I went into ministry, I heard a saying: “Some of the most beloved pastors couldn’t preach their way out of a paper bag.” It is an odd analogy to be sure. I took the intent of the saying to mean that if you were good at pastoral care and loved the people they would put up with a great deal of terrible preaching. Maybe. But why should they? And, if you really love them, wouldn’t you want to inspire them rather than merely talk at them?
Most of the work of the sermon comes from divine calling and inspiration. The rest of it is on us to be able to pass on what has been given us to the congregation listening. This takes work, and as with all work, you can work harder or smarter. This course offers tools to develop your sermons including ways to work smarter, or make the most of the time you have to prepare for the sermon.
It is also important that the voice you use to give the message is uniquely yours. That may sound obvious, but I have heard preachers try to give sermons like those preachers they admired. The problem was, of course, they were not those preachers. The EQUIPOnline course helps you develop your own voice for preaching. After all the message you are given is yours to give, so use the voice God gave you.
Rev. Dr. Sonja Tobey, EQUIPOnline