Practice (Literally) What You Preach
You have finished writing your sermon. You know what you are going to say. The sermon structure is clear and creative. Your work is complete and it's only Friday! You can put away your manuscript and simply rise up to preach your well-developed sermon on Sunday, right?
Not so fast.
While you may know what to say, it is crucial to spend time considering how you will say it. Preachers should spend adequate time between the completion of the sermon and the actual preaching event reflecting on how they will say what God has called them to say to their congregations. In other words, preachers will want to practice what they preach.
Every preacher needs to find his own method for prayerfully practicing the sermon. You can adapt the following process to fit your personality, years of experience, and preferences. I often begin the process of practicing the sermon on Saturday instead of Sunday morning so that it has a longer period in which to permeate my soul.
Saturday: 90 minutes
Prayerfully read your sermon in silence. Begin this step with a prayer for guidance and anointing to proclaim his Word with the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. Then, read the sermon outline or manuscript silently, slowly, and prayerfully. Try reading through the sermon two or three times to get a sense of the sermon's flow and the communicative tone that will best match your content. As you read the sermon, you are also trying to implant in your memory the seven to ten moves, or parts, of your sermon.
Speak your sermon aloud reflecting on the use of your body and voice. As you speak the words of the sermon, discern how your body and voice can reinforce the words. Imagine your way into the preaching event. Picture the faces of the people and the situations in which they find themselves. What are the deepest needs, burdens, and hopes that your congregants carry in their hearts? Certain words of your sermon will need to be communicated with an enthusiastic tone and sweeping gestures. Other words you preach will need a soft tone and subtle gestures.
Imagining your people and speaking the sermon aloud will give you a sense of the voice tones and body gestures necessary to reinforce the words of the sermon.
Preach your sermon using your body and voice. You have prayerfully reflected on the words of the sermon and the best way to embody it with gestures and voice. Now it's time to time stand up and preach it. Some might view this practicing of the sermon as theatrical or, worse, unspiritual. On the contrary, investing prayerful thought, time, and energy to prepare for delivering a message from God to the people he loves may be one of the preacher's most spiritual disciplines.
Sunday: 60 Minutes
Pray about the preaching event. Most preachers are awake several hours before the Sunday service begins. This time can be used to connect with God concerning the preaching event. Acknowledge your need for God. Invite God to transform your life and the lives of people in your church through the preaching event. Of course, you have been breathing prayers to God like this throughout the homiletic process but now that you know what you're going to say and how you will say it, you can pray with greater precision.
Rehearse the sermon in your head. Think through the words of the sermon, recalling how you will use your voice and body to reinforce those words. By now you will likely have memorized the sequential flow of the sermon's moves. Now is a good time to memorize the sermon introduction and conclusion so that you can maintain engaging eye contact with listeners.
Preach the key parts. If you don't have time to practice preaching the entire sermon again, decide which parts of the sermon are most significant. Usually, the key parts include the introduction and conclusion, along with an illuminating illustration. Practice preaching these key parts using no notes at all.
Questions for consideration
1. Consider how the process above is similar to or different from what you already do to practice what you preach. How has your process of practicing the sermon changed over the years of your preaching ministry?
2. Adopt or adapt this process for the next three or four sermons you preach. After this trial period, reflect on the following questions: Did you enjoy the preaching event more because you practiced what you preached? Did your congregation notice a change in your sermon delivery? If so, what changes did they observe? Did the process of practicing the sermon free you to maintain consistent eye contact with listeners during the actual preaching event?
Lenny Luchetti is professor of proclamation and Christian Ministries at Wesley Seminary, a graduate school of Indiana Wesleyan University.
Copyright © 2014 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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