Probably the biggest question I’ve gotten from people as I’ve transitioned from being an Associate Pastor to a Senior Pastor is how has the transition affected or changed my preaching. You see, I was one of those Associate Pastors who preached 4-5 times a year. Now that I am 9 Sundays into my new role, I’ve effectively preached more Sundays as a Senior Pastor than I did over my last two years as an Associate Pastor. Naturally, people are curious about how this has affected or changed the way I preach — after all, preaching every 7 days and preaching every 90-120 days are two very different beasts.
Below are a couple of things I tried to do while I was still an Associate with the hopes that I would be better prepared for living in the rhythms of preaching every Sunday:
- Get advice from skilled and seasoned preachers. It’s very important you go out and find BOTH skilled AND seasoned preachers and ask advice. In the days of the Internet, don’t believe any pastor who tells you there’s no time to listen to preaching from other people. Be a student of preaching and find out who some good preachers are nearby. Ask members of other churches and even other denominations. Ask around among your colleagues. But don’t make the mistake of asking just any preacher — just because you preach every Sunday does NOT mean you do it well. You want advice from skilled preachers because they will more than likely have the best preparation and study habits as well. It’s not an accident that they are good preachers. They’ve honed the craft well. Those are the preachers you want to learn good habits from.
- Read books on preaching but also read books on effective public speaking. I re-read Barbara Brown Taylor’s The Preaching Life and it was just as exquisite as I remembered from the first time I read it. But I also read How to Deliver a TED Talk because there are tons of very effective speakers who come from outside of the preaching world. Preachers would do themselves a favor if more would read about effective communication from authors outside of the preaching discipline.
The hardest lesson I’ve ever learned (and am continuing to learn) is how to find and cultivate MY preaching voice. My preaching professor in seminary was Dr. Tom Long and for the longest time I wished I could preach like Tom. Tom has the sort of voice that could inspire you if he read the menu at Wendy’s. But here’s the thing — I’m not Tom Long. I’m not Adam Hamilton. I’m not Billy Graham. I’m not Andy Stanley. And I’m not any other wonderful preacher you can think of. I’m Ben. It’s taken me a long time to be okay with that. I’m convinced that great preaching comes from a place of authenticity — you will bring your personality, the way you see the world, your sense of humor, and all of who you are to the preaching moment. If we believe what we preach when we say we are made in the very image of God, then there’s nothing to be ashamed of in bringing exactly who we are to our preaching. People will hear us more clearly the more we are clearly being ourselves.
Now onto the good stuff. Below is my basic preaching routine moving from planning sermons, preparing, and then delivering them. Feel free to follow the links provided below and check out the various resources I use on a weekly basis. However as I said before, I’m only 9 official weeks into preaching on a weekly basis. This routine could change at any moment as I continue to grow into a more effective preacher (the goal every preacher should have):
- The biggest favor I did myself while I was still an Associate Pastor was that I sat down and planned sermons in detail for six months into my new role as a Senior Pastor. This was helpful for our music director at my new church because I was able to walk in and hand her an aid for planning music through Christmas (a courtesy not enough preachers offer their musicians). But it has also helped as the onslaught of learning a new role has unfolded. I didn’t have to worry about coming up with a sermon title or text — it was already planned. I’ve simply had to keep the discipline of preparing my sermons each week.
- I keep a Moleskin notebook on my person most of the day almost every day. In it, I have notes jotted down for sermons weeks out. This way I’m never working week-to-week. I’m always working on this week and on weeks to come. The notebook helps for ideas or illustrations that offer themselves up as I go about my daily living and study.
- My new favorite app is Evernote. I keep all of my sermon outlines in this easy to use app. And the beauty of it is I can access the app or the site whether I’m on my smartphone, iPad, or laptop computer. My notes are always there and I never have to email myself back and forth depending on my physical location. My sermon is always with me. The app also has a cool “web clipper” feature that lets you grab articles and other things off the web. While we’re talking about grabbing stuff from the web, Pocket App is also a new favorite. If I read an interesting article or find a great quote, this app serves as a place to deposit and tag it for later use.
- Practice. Practice. Practice. I often speak in front of a mirror. This comes from a great tip James Howell (a great preacher I sought advice from) once gave me at a preaching conference. There’s no move I make that I haven’t already seen in a mirror during the week. You need to see yourself preach from the perspective of the person in the pew. I also time my sermon using the outline — once being dependent on the outline and then once on Saturday evening and (at least) once early on Sunday morning not being dependent on it. I’ve found that the more I practice being less dependent on my outline makes the sermon more conversational in tone.
A couple of things have changed in my preaching over these last few weeks. First, I’ve officially made the move from being a manuscript preacher to being an outline preacher to being an outline preacher who leaves the outline behind in order to preach with no notes at all. It’s been an incredibly freeing and exciting transition. Because of this change, I’ve found my preaching has become more focused and shorter in length (two things I hope the congregation enjoys). Truth is I can’t trust myself to remember too many points or too many moves in a sermon. I used to preach 18-25 minutes when I was an Associate Pastor. My sermons are now 12-15 minutes. Secondly, I’ve found that I’m more of an observational preacher. Every preacher has an angle they preach from. Some are teachers. Others are great orators and classical preachers. I’ve found that through the ways I plan and prepare, I sit with a text in different ways depending on when the sermon is coming. This lets me use it as a lens to live my life and see the world around me. So by the time Sunday comes, the text serves as a jumping off point for how we can see God and the world around us (hopefully) in new and exciting and faithful ways.
In other words, my weekly goal is to allow the beauty of the text give me eyes to see and ears to hear the beauty of God in the world around us and then to share it boldly, clearly, and hopefully effectively with others.