Did Jesus ever need to prepare for a sermon when he was here on earth? Did he ever stare at his reflection in a lake and practice the words? Jesus may never have had these troubles, but we certainly can from time to time. Speaking in front of a group is, as you already know, the number one fear of most people. Orating your first sermon can be a scary event, but it can also be exciting and awe inspiring. These tips can help you make it a grand experience to remember.
Go with God
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
Regardless of the words you speak and actions you make, you are a vessel of the Holy Spirit. We can make that connection in many ways, although prayer is the most common. Take considerable time to pray and meditate at important intervals, such as before writing, when you are stuck, before you speak and everywhere else you will need the guiding light of the Lord. When we step out of our own way to let God and his word shine through, we are amazed at how loving, passionate and articulate we can be.
Pick Your Passage Carefully
Coherent, inspirational speeches typically come from rigorous and intentional planning. If this is your first sermon, it is important you pick a bible passage, understand its meaning within the words and its context within the book. If you are do not yet have a passage or are having trouble coming up with one, pray on it and ask God to show you a passage. When you do have a passage, some say reading over it repeatedly is a good way to meditate on it, but also read the entire chapter to understand the context. Speak about the passage with family or friends to get alternative opinions and perspectives you may not have considered.
If you need some help with sermon ideas or outlines, we have a colossal database of them here.
Draft Without Judgment
Human beings can be exceptionally judgmental of our own capabilities, even those who have a deep spiritual connection to God. When you are asked to deliver your first sermon, you might already have a topic. Whether you have a sliver of an idea or a meticulous train of thought, your first job is to get it onto paper.
First write from the heart and not from the head. When you write from the head or judge our writing, we stop ourselves from being able to hear God speak to us. Thus, the most important part of writing a first draft is getting out what you want to say without judgment or assessment. Write what comes to you and refrain from appraising it. You will work on the details later. Give yourself a page or two pages or another number you think is adequate and keep writing until you have reached that point.
Remember, when you censor your natural ability and process, you bring about doubt and uncertainty and you miss some of the opportunities to capture some genuine, unfettered wisdom.
Let It Simmer
Now walk away from your sermon. Let it sit for at least 24 hours and longer if possible. If we pore over our works and spend too much time in front of it, we can lose perspective. Artists and other creative types use the distance tactic to get a fresh look at their words. When you come back to it, you will find that you can easily notice errors, awkward sentences and strange word choices.
Return to Edit
You can now go back through it and begin to sand down the rough spots. Go over each sentence and review it with an analytical mind. Rework sentences and try different words until you get a version you are happy with. Make sure you have a structure that has a clear beginning, middle and end. Using the typical high school essay structure works well. If you have forgotten those classes, it is:
Your completed sermon should roughly follow this structure. If you need a more in-depth walkthrough of this structure and how each section can be used effectively, you can use the Leadership Script. It provides a detailed outline for each section and why it’s important.
Public speaking can be a harrowing experience. We are inundated in the world by professionals who stand in front of people and look natural and comfortable on stage – but rarely were they born that way. Although they may have a natural talent, it must be honed through practice.
Start by standing in front of a mirror and speak your sermon out loud. Saying each word aloud is crucial, because you will get to hear how each and every word sounds coming from you. If you are particularly brave, record and it listen back.
Time your sermon and say it out loud. If it is too long, go back to editing and pare it down. If it is too short, go back to brainstorming or speak with a mentor or friend to get some additional ideas. Never add words as filler just because it is too short. Each word should earn its place in your sermon and have a purpose.
Next, practice with friends or family to get used to speaking in small groups. The idea is to get so comfortable that your words become second nature. Even if you are nervous your first time, practice lets your instinct guide you through. This is one of those things that just comes with time and experience.
Um, Uh, Er
Have you ever heard someone speak that says ‘uh’ or ‘um’ every few words? It can easily take away from the flow and message that is being conveyed. Uhs and ums will distract from your message, and you need to get rid of them through practice.
A great way to stop using those ‘thinking’ type words is to pause when you are about to say them. If you feel an ‘uh’ or an ‘um’ bubbling to the surface, pause. Not only does it prevent you from using those words; it uses the dramatic effect of pauses to keep your audience engaged. Dramatic pauses are incredibly effective at keeping your audience hanging on. Barack Obama is exceptional at this – just check out this video.
Let Your Spirit Shine
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” – Isaiah 52:7
Your body conveys the message inside of you. A messenger of good news walks with joy and elation, and the receiver picks up on this even before he hears the words. When we see others getting excited, we get excited too. When people sound bored and talk in monotone, we fall asleep.
It is part of our humanness. We mimic the emotions and actions of other people when we connect with them. Speak your words with conviction and passion. Let yourself be animated, move your arms and enunciate your words. Let the power of the Spirit flow through you freely. When people sense that you feel passionately about what you say, you will transfer the emotions that you feel to them.
Find Your Flow
These tips are only guidelines. Everyone’s path is a little different and unique. Shape your process into something that works for you. Study the sermons of those you admire, study what they do, what they say and how they say it. After some time, you will have your own unique process that works for you.
Now you are ready. Take your time, remember to breathe and follow these ten tips, and your sermon will be an event to remember.