The most important thing that a minister will do is weekly stand and deliver a message from God's Word. It requires his highest attention, fervent prayer, careful study, and demands his faithful delivery. He isn't just giving a lecture or factoids, he's standing to declare what God has said from His Word and made known to us. But message preparation and delivery isn't the only thing in a minister's time. There are meetings, counseling appointments, vision casting, staff development, community engagement, more meetings, occasionally killing spiders, social media design, and more meetings. But improving your preparation and delivery is something that can be accomplished in a few steps.
1. Focus on one thing - One of the things I have learned the most about preaching is that if I can't sum it up in a sentence, I have too much. I credit Andy Stanley's Communicating for a Change for shaping me on that, and recently reading Carey Nieuwhof on speaking without notes he emphasizes the importance of a one statement summary. I love using a Big Main Idea to distill the whole point of what I'm trying to get across. That way, I can remember what I'm preaching on, and hopefully other people can too. Getting to that point is difficult, but ministry isn't for wimps. Do the hard work of condensing and distilling to the one idea. Your people will thank you.
2. Block out time - Even though there are lots of things that come up in a minister's time that can't be predicted, there is time that you have control over. So it's in those you need to block out your time to make sure to give your message preparation proper attention. How much time you need is up to you and how you're wired. Some people need 10 hours, other 25. It depends on how fast you can process information and outline. Regardless, you have to block time. That's why I love iCal. I can make time blocks of 2-3 hours and if an emergency comes up, I slide the blocks.
3. Don't overcomplicate things - One of the things I see happen so often is a preacher feels he has to be in a constant game of one-upmanship where he has to be more clever or creative than the week before. The point isn't to aim for being clever, the point is to be faithful to the text. You don't need to wear costumes, try to find the most epic YouTube video, or look for gimmicks. Just read the text, explain the text, apply the text, and go take a nap.
4. Aim for simplicity - In your exegesis, outlining, illustrations, and preparation, focus on simplicity rather than complexity. Simplicity is the companion of clarity, which is what you're after. You don't need to confuse your people. You need to give them a crystal clear message. Don't outthink the room. Don't try to unpack something novel that no one has ever figured out before. If the Apostles, Fathers, Reformers, your professors, and your wife haven't figured it out, you're probably barking up the wrong tree. Lean on others through commentaries, summaries, good books, and other messages. Use simple outlines. Use illustrations that are quick and to the point.
5. Focus on application - In preaching we have three targets: the Head (Knowledge), the Heart (Affections), and the Hands (Actions). We're really good at the first two. We have a lot of information to pass along. We have a devotion that comes from the joy of the text. But often we struggle with Application. So beyond just asking "What does this passage mean?" we need to ask "How can I apply this passage to my life?" We're giving people a word they can take with them. We need to give them something they can use at work, in their neighborhood, with their families. If we don't draw people towards obedience, faith, trust, and service, we're giving lectures.
What have you done to improve your message preparation & delivery?
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Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.