You hang up the phone and your immediate thought is, "What have I gotten myself into?" You fluctuate between feeling flattered and panicked. You've just been asked to provide the opening message at the upcoming fall retreat. You said yes. Now what?
With God's help, you can do this with effectiveness and joy. Follow these simple guidelines as you prepare.
Choose a topic
If you haven't been assigned a topic, the field is pretty broad. The Bible is a big book and having free reign to choose to teach on whatever you want can be overwhelming. However, a good way to narrow down the choice is to teach to others what God is teaching you. So, as you think about your topic, reflect on your personal study or devotional times with God. What Scripture are you focusing on these days? What insights have you gained? What direction is God taking your thinking and processing? When a topic becomes part of the fabric of your being via the ministry of the Holy Spirit, you are able to share it more effectively with others.
Then ask yourself if this topic is one that will be relevant to your audience. If you are learning from it, very likely they will too, but you need to think about their chronological and spiritual maturity. If it fits them, or if you can revise it to fit them, you may have answered the first question of delivering a message. Once you have a topic in mind, ask God to confirm to you in some way that this is, in fact, the message that he wants you to present to the group you will address. Once confirmed, you have safely managed the first hurdle (and often, according to many teachers, the most difficult).
Begin your research
This part of preparing a presentation gives you a great excuse to read, study, and drink in all that you can on a given subject. The first and primary resource, of course, is the Bible. Use a concordance to find passages that relate to your theme so you can have an overall grasp of what God has already said about the subject. Then find support materials from popular Christian authors and commentators. Read and digest all that you can. Take notes on what you glean so you can remember and attribute the source if you quote an author. As you begin to process the information you are gathering, you will find certain key points that keep coming back to you as important to share with those who will be looking to you for teaching.
Write a summary sentence
Remember that after you present your message, you will want your listeners to take away something that they can remember and apply effectively to their lives. That will not happen unless you, as the speaker, stay focused on the primary point you want to make. Therefore, it is critical at this juncture that you write in one sentence the main teaching that you want your listeners to absorb. Too often, as teachers, we are so excited about all we want to share that we forget that audiences cannot absorb too many separate points in hearing the message only one time. We become immersed in our topic and can recite theme after theme that we have gleaned from our study. But our audience will be coming to us out of the busyness of their lives, will tune into our teaching for a time, and then will leave. We don't want them to walk out saying, "What was that all about?" We want to be perfectly clear about what our primary message is. We cannot be clear with them until we are clear in our own minds first. So the one-sentence summary is critical. Everything else we do in preparation and presentation will revolve around that sentence.