As Emerging Young Preachers (EYPs) we often have a lot of energy and a real eagerness to communicate. People usually connect with our passion, our conversational tone, and our “relevant” talk. However, they don’t often speak about how well prepared we are.
Why is that? It would seem that we younger preachers would prepare like crazy. We should be more nervous, right? We should lack some confidence at the task. Why doesn’t this drive us to more diligently prepare?
Let’s walk with humility into the joyful journey of sermon preparation. Why? Well, first of all we’ll be better preachers. Christ is King of the Universe, but content is king of the sermon; and our content is Christ. If we don’t spend a great deal of time working on that content—digging deep into the earth from which a harvest of Christ-focus grows—then we’re missing out and our hearers are missing out too.
The second reason to do this is that preparing a sermon can actually be even better than delivering one. Seriously. The wonderful phases of sermon prep can be an exciting rush of spiritual adventure and scriptural exploration. There are seasons in my life where I actually grew to love preparing sermons more than delivering them (these were also seasons when I was reworking my delivery to make it more effective).
So, in this series on EYPs we’ve taken a look at the identity temptations (LINK), the unique opportunities (LINK), and the feedback strategies (LINK), of the early years of preaching development but now let’s look at the preparation habits of EYPs:
Preparation Habits of Emerging Young Preachers
If you DON’T have great ideas start with scripture. When we sit down to write a message, or plan a series, we rack our brains trying to come up with a hip cultural reference or pop culture themes that connect with some felt need Christians have something to say about. Many times this process dries up and we don’t have a good idea—so we stall out. But there’s good news… when you don’t have these creative ideas you can just open up the Bible and find a text or book that would speak truth into your congregation and community—one that meets spiritual needs of a profound nature, and that leads them deeply towards Christ. When you don’t have great ideas start with Scripture.
If you DO have great ideas still start with scripture. However, sometimes you DO have some great ideas with hip cultural references and pop culture themes that really sound cool. Before you even start prepping you already have the promo cards in mind. You already can envision a cool video spoof of a summer box-office smash. You are drawing out props on napkins already. Hold up. I have bad news and good news. The bad news is that even when you DO have great ideas like this you need to set them aside and start with scripture. The good news is that all those props and cultural references are a dime a dozen, and you can come up with them later. Yes, it’s not wrong to shoot funny videos and use props and make slick promo cards that get people in the seats. But the FIRST place to start is with what you’re going to say; and your message is not: “I am cool and our church is relevant.” Right? Your message is more than that. Your message is closer to this: “Christ is cool and our church cares.”
Prepare in down times. If you have three months between preaching opportunities, then prepare for three months. One of the advantages of EYPs is they are not usually preaching each Sunday. If this is true then use that down time to ramp up a message and marinade your ideas for weeks, not days. It’ll be all the richer because of it.
Schedule prep time like meetings. Those of us that master preparation block time off for prep and don’t abandon it for other matters, unless someone is dying. An EYP who prepares well has no trouble saying: “I’m sorry but I’m booked all day Wednesday and Friday. Could we meet Thursday, or push it to next week?”
Make your message an arrow. If your sermon aims at nothing you will hit it every time. Somewhere in the middle of the process of preparation—the EYP must find out where this arrow points. What is the big idea; what is scripture saying in this message? What am I trying to convince them of, call them to, commission them for, or compel them to become? Aim the arrow as early as possible.
Remember that well-practiced anecdotes work best. If there’s a key story you are telling, then it’s best to share it many times in hallway conversations and in meetings and with family first. This can be irritating to staff and family, as they hear the preachers tell them stories all week and they start to realize that the preacher is just practicing on them. Well, if they are staff then they are paid for that—and if they are family they have no choice. Practice on them.
Source what you borrow. The three best friends of every preacher with depth are named Dr. Beg, Mr. Borrow and Rev. Steal. Yes, dig into other works and learn all you can and pass it along. But in the process a simple line like, “As C. S. Lewis, says…” before the quote is all that’s needed. In the manuscript or outline you can footnote everything, but in the verbal sermon you can just drop the author’s name and that’s enough. But not doing so is plagiarism.
Become a quadruple-threat exegetically. Start by exegeting the scriptures, for sure. But a great EYP starts to exegete their congregation, their community, and their culture at large in the preparation process.
In the end, couple prayer with every point of the preparation process. Pray and Listen. Pray and Read. Pray and Write. Pray and Practice. Pray and Preach.
David Drury is the co-author of the books SoulShift and Ageless Faith and the author of The Fruitful Life. He serves as Executive Pastor of College Church in Marion, Indiana. He writes every weekday at www.daviddrury.com