How to Preach

Four Parts:Choosing a SubjectStudying the TextPreparing the SermonPreaching the Sermon

Meaningful preaching requires steady discernment and discipline. You'll need to carefully prepare your sermon before preaching it in an accessible manner.

Part 1
Choosing a Subject

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    Give yourself plenty of time. Start thinking of what to preach about as soon as possible. Give yourself at least one week, if not longer.[1]
    • When possible, it's actually wiser to start searching and planning a couple of weeks in advance. It can take a while before the right passage reveals itself, and even longer to prepare the right sermon around that passage. The words you preach need to be the result of thought and discernment, and not an emotional reaction.
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    Pray and meditate. Ask God for guidance. Since you'll be preaching God's truth, you should wait for God to reveal the truth He wants you to preach on.
    • Make a conscious effort to be in communion with God as you attempt to discern the right topic. Take a walk in the park as you pray. Meditate as you shower. Spend a few minutes thinking about it in the quiet morning hours.
    • Either a specific passage or a specific topic will come to mind. Both options can be useful as long as you keep the message centered around the Scriptures.
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    Look for passages addressing your topic. If a topic comes to mind before an actual verse does, start looking for passages that directly talk about that topic. Comb through several different options until you find one that jumps out at you.
    • If a passage jumps out at you before a topic does, apply this step in reverse. Comb through the passage looking for its meaning. Once you latch onto the theme of the passage, consider looking up short supporting passages to note along with it.
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    Start over when needed. Don't be discouraged if you hit a dead end while pursuing one possible subject for your sermon. There are times when you may need to start the process over from scratch. Doing so might seem inconvenient, but it is a better option than forcing a message you can't wrap your thoughts around.

Part 2
Studying the Text

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    Pray for insight. Once you know what to talk about, pray for insight on what you should be saying about it. You should be in communication with God throughout the entire process of preaching, including each preparatory step.
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    Focus on the Word. The message of your sermon should be centered around the Bible. Start from the passage or passages you've been led to and build the rest of your sermon up from there.
    • The message you preach should build upon biblical truth, not the other way around. In other words, you shouldn't plan out the message you want to deliver and twist scripture around in a way that fits your ideas. Your ideas need to work around the scriptural truth that already exists.
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    Research the passage. Study the passage thoroughly to improve your own understanding. Consider its meaning within scriptural, historical, and cultural contexts.[2]
    • Look at the verses around the passage. Make sure you know and understand its immediate context so that you don't misinterpret the meaning.
    • Do a little external research, too, especially if the passage describes a custom or idea that is foreign to contemporary ways of thinking.
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    Determine its significance. All of God's Word is significant, but you should be asking yourself why this particular passage is so important and why God wants you to preach on it.
    • Figure out the theme of the passage. Ask yourself what it says about God and why people need to listen.
    • Note that some of this might be answered as you go through the process of selecting the passage, especially if you found the passage by searching the Bible for a specific topic.
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    Let yourself be surprised. Don't assume that you already know everything there is to know about the passage you're working with. Let yourself be surprised by truths and perspectives hidden beneath the surface.
    • When dealing with a passage you're already familiar with, it can be easy to fixate on the safe, common meaning you already know. Don't settle for seeing only what you expect to see, though.
    • On the other hand, you also shouldn't look for hidden meaning that may not be there. Don't twist the text around for the sake of finding something shocking or new; simply accept any surprise insights that naturally arise.

Part 3
Preparing the Sermon

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    Prepare the text of your sermon beforehand. You can write out the entire sermon or simply settle for an outlined version, but either way, you should prepare a written plan that you can use when you're actually preaching.
    • Having a prepared text will usually keep you more centered when you actually start preaching. Unless you're remarkably fluent in the subject matter, impromptu preaching tends to be more disorganized and less insightful.
    • You can write the entire sermon word-for-word, use shortened notes, or use an outline. Outlines are generally preferred since they make it easier to look out into the congregation as you preach and limit the temptation to stare at your notes the entire time.
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    Offer context. Some passages may seem self-explanatory, but oftentimes, those passages make more sense within a broader context. Include any scriptural or historical information needed to really bring the text into focus.
    • Think back to the research you did while trying to understand the passage. Information that granted you new understanding should be included in your sermon.
    • Don't get too carried away, of course. You still need to focus your sermon on the Word itself. Supporting details should be used to increase the listener's understanding of the passage and should not steal the show.
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    Apply the message. You need to illustrate how the text applies to real life in the contemporary world. Give your listeners information they feel can be useful to them as they navigate through the trials and temptations of the everyday.
    • Start with the end in mind. As you organize your sermon, think about what your listeners need to learn from it and structure the flow of the sermon so that it builds up to that.
    • Directly relate the message to some real-life scenario, and try to choose a fairly common scenario that will appeal to as many different people as possible. By illustrating one possible application of the message, you can help your listeners understand how to apply the message to their own lives.
    • In applying the message, you should also end up challenging the listener. Your sermon should give your listeners something to think on and prod them into doing some type of positive action that is consistent with biblical truth.
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    Practice. Practice preaching the sermon aloud beforehand. During your practice, you should also time yourself and edit your sermon appropriately.
    • As a general rule, aim for a sermon roughly 25 to 30 minutes long. A sermon that's meaningful but a little on the short side is usually more effective than a long, rambling sermon.[3]
    • Practicing your sermon can also help you determine the most effective way to preach it. The more familiar you become with it, the easier it will be to add pauses and stresses in all the right places.

Part 4
Preaching the Sermon

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    Pray before you start. Before standing up and preaching to the people, you should spend a few quiet minutes praying for guidance, clarity, and wisdom.
    • Even if the text you've written has been prayerfully crafted and practiced, you still need to pray for the ability to deliver it well. You should also pray for the hearts and minds of your listeners to remain open to the message.
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    Speak in layman's terms. Avoid using academic jargon or other phrasing that some of the congregation won't understand. Speak in simple, conversational terms so that the message will be accessible to everyone who hears it.
    • This doesn't mean that you should water down or simplify the message. The truth you preach should be deep and meaningful, but the words you use to preach it must be understandable to the majority of your audience if you want them to make an impact.
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    Be approachable. Your body language should be engaging. As a general rule, try to appear confident and friendly instead of looking stiff, nervous, or overly-stern.
    • Even if you don't feel confident, you should try to look it. Avoid nervous ticks, the frequent use of nonsense words like “uh” and “um,” and other signs of anxiety. If you don't look confident, the message of your sermon might lose credibility.
    • Your manner of speech, movements, and expressions should match with your words. Behave seriously when talking about something serious, but relax when talking about something lighthearted.
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    Stick to the point. There might be times when the Holy Spirit legitimately takes you in an unexpected direction, but for the most part, you should stick to the text and points you prepared beforehand. Losing focus in the middle of a sermon can cause it to drag on and seem aimless.
    • When a sermon drifts off course, you may end up losing a good portion of your listeners. At that point, it can be easy to start talking more in an effort to bring them, but additional rambling will usually hurt your cause more than help it. A better option would be to simply remain more concise from that point on.
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    Use humor and creative tricks carefully. The use of humor and creative illustrations can help a sermon when applied in a supportive nature, but if you rely on these tactics too much, they can actually weaken the overall message.
    • Any humor you use should be relevant to the overall message. It might be used to grab the listener's attention or illustrate a point. It can even be used to relieve tension.[4]
    • You should not, on the other hand, use humor to win approval. It won't do anybody any good if the congregation remembers your joke but forgets the message.
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    Learn and improve. After you finish preaching, evaluate how effective you were. Ask for feedback from those who listened to you. Figure out what you did well and where you can improve, then adjust your technique accordingly the next time you preach.
    • Go to other members of your pastoral team or trusted members of the congregation for constructive critiques.
    • Consider asking someone to record you as you preach, then watch the tape shortly after church ends that same day. You'll probably be able to learn a lot just by watching yourself.
    • Accept the fact that you aren't perfect. There will always be room for improvement, especially when you don't have much prior preaching experience.

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Categories: Religion