Before you step behind the pulpit, turn on your wireless mic or fire up your iPad, how do you know you have the right message?
Every preacher approaches their message preparation differently. We all have different methods, patterns and systems drive us to the final draft of our sermon. I would never suggest there is only one way (or even the best way) to prepare a sermon; however, I am going to suggest three questions which can help you focus on the most important words you need to say.
3 Questions to Find Your Sermon’s Sweet Spot
What has God said?
This is not a complicated question. What God has said is contained in His Word. I may be old-fashioned, but I still think the content of every sermon ought to flow from the pages of the Bible.
If I want to preach the Words of God, I need to immerse myself in them. I need to study them, memorize them, meditate on them. I need to consult others to better understand them. Before I ever preach to others, I ought to have as clear an understanding as possible of what God has said.
Who are these people?
Not every congregation or audience is the same, and as I preach God’s Word to them I ought to take into account who they are. Not everyone can always know exactly who their audience is, but if you are a pastor, you MUST spend regular time learning the people who sit in those pews every Sunday.
Every Monday morning I spend time reading notes, comments, prayer requests and praise items from my brothers and sisters in my church. They are kind enough to share their lives and thoughts with me by writing on the back of our “connection card” each week. I try to email every one of them with a short note of encouragement so they know I enjoy hearing from them and want to hear more.
Connection cards are one method for learning about the people to whom you preach. I also have other means by which I grow deeper relationships with the people in the pews. The method is not nearly as important as the outcome. If I am going to effectively preach to people over time, I must find a way to learn:
- What is going on in their lives
- How they are struggling
- Where they have been victorious
- When they have been disappointed
- Why they are at our church
- For whom they are burdened
How can I tell these people what God said?
I could easily spend 30 hours preparing for a sermon and then speak for an hour, dumping a massive amount of information on the congregation. I would walk away feeling good that I have taught and they have learned.
I choose to take a different path.
For me, the most difficult element of sermon preparation is specifically crafting my words to apply God’s truth particularly to my friends in the pews. I find it much more stressful to choose what I will not say, then to determine what I will say. Not everything I learn in my sermon preparation is what the people on Sunday need to learn. In fact, much of it is not what they need and could possibly distract them from what God truly wants them to hear.
For what it is worth, the Sermon on the Mount was much shorter than a 45-minute sermon. Yet Jesus packed more truth and application into that message than I could ever do.
My general rule of thumb is as follows:
“If I could preach this sermon to any congregation at any location; I still have work to do before I preach it to my congregation at my church.”
Discover what God has said. Determine to whom you’ll be speaking. Discern what they need to hear from God.
Then trust the Holy Spirit to do the hard work!
David Rudd is Lead Pastor for The Gathering, a non-denominational church in Dayton, Ohio. He and Marianne have been married since 1996 and have two amazing children, Emma and Liam. Coffee, Liverpool FC, the Detroit Tigers and a growing collection of fishing shirts occupy different corners of David’s mind.
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