The Art of the Sermon Part Six: The Delivery

Always looking for a gimmick for the blog, and constantly being asked about it, I've decided to work on a two-week series called "The Art of the Sermon." I'm going to walk through step by step everything I do for a sermon, from two weeks out until Sunday morning at the Bridge. I will then post a youtube video of the sermon, just in case you can't make the Bridge. If we do it right, this will be fun and educational! Come along!

You've spent hours getting everything together. You've researched, prayed, written, and prayed a bunch more. Now the day of delivery is finally here!

Really, at this point I think there are two extremes in terms of types of preachers: Those who swagger their way to the pulpit, and those who have to try with all their might not to pee their pants.

Granted, those are extremes. I think I sit somewhere directly in the middle. It's even more fun in a situation like I had yesterday, where I was a part of the worship band for the beginning of the service, and so had to make a bit of a transition. Here are some thoughts I had through the morning yesterday:

1. Don't be nervous on account of the people.
If you are anything like me, you live and die for people's approval. You hate it when people think ill of you, and you would love nothing more than to hear that you'd done a good job. Unfortunately for people like you and me, this is not the place for that. If you're using your sermon to try to increase your twitter audience because people will think you're cooler than ice, you need to get out of ministry immediately!

If you're on the other side of that situation, scared stiff at the mere notion of a room full of people staring at you, then you needn't worry. You are not you in that moment. You are the vessel through which God has chosen to reveal his word. The opinions of people should never get in the way of what God has to say to us! If you've been asked by the Lord to say something that might push someone out of the comfort zone, then do so with confidence. (This is easy for me to say this week: I don't think anyone was concerned about leaving their comfort zone after a sermon about singing...)

And also, be careful of how you read the congregation. The folks at the Bridge always scare me when I haven't preached their in a while (like, say, this week) because they don't often show a lot of emotion during a sermon. It's not to say they aren't with you (the responses I got at the end of the service definitely showed they were), they just express themselves differently than you might have expected.

2. Do be nervous to represent God.
People ask me all the time if I still get nervous when I'm preaching, and my answer is "most definitely!" Not because I'm scared of the people, or that one time I preached with my fly down when I was in high school, but because when we preach, we are being asked to represent the Lord.

I think the world would be without a lot of bad sermons if we all remembered that. We're not just there to fill 20 minutes every week. We're there to tell the people what God wants them to hear. There was a reason that God wanted me to scrap (for now) my original plan of preaching on the Holy Spirit, and instead focus a bit on worship and why we sing. I don't know what that is, but I'm trusting that God has moved through the words I spoke yesterday (more on this later)

Approach the word of God with care and thanksgiving, not with "oh boy look at how cool I can make this sermon!" It's a powerful and yet fragile thing, somewhere between a flower and a gun (thanks Jon Foreman). Be a little nervous, but not to the point of utter failure. Just a healthy fear.

3. Be aware of your vices.
In the first post of this series, I mentioned that I had a bit of a love for Rob Bell. One of the things I picked up from him was the way he moved during his sermons. He roams the stage like a lion ready to pounce, and that probably comes from the fact that Mars Hill is set up in the round, where preachers have to be on the move to keep eye contact with the congregation. When it's done well, it can be a really great way to engage people.

I do not do it well.

I've been told again and again that I wander a little bit too much. At first I dismissed it as old people who didn't get my incredibly awesome arrogance youthfulness, but have since discovered that in fact I was just plain bad at it. Many people would be able to focus on my message a bit more if I didn't walk around so much.

So, aware of that (and about 30 other problems), I set up the podium yesterday. I don't often do that, in fact if I'm honest it scares me a little bit. I didn't stand behind the podium the whole sermon, but I did kind of use it as a home base, in the hopes that I wouldn't be a distraction.

The next few times you preach, do yourself a favor and find a way to record it visually. Either grab a video camera (scary) or a group of friends to help critique you (very scary!) and figure out how your posture during a sermon can be improved. This takes a little bit of ego shellacking, but I promise it's worth it. You will lose these annoying habits over time, and become a better preacher for it.

(Incidentally, I was promising to have a youtube video of the sermon to close out this series. Due to some pretty poor planning ahead (ed had the camera in Laurelville), that's not happening. Sorry guys! If you want a copy of my outline or keynote presentation, just e-mail me)

4. You're not done yet.
I think I've made it painfully obvious in this post, but I'm not such a big fan of sermons that are delivered out of some sense of requirement of obligation. If you head home and throw on the Steeler game without giving a second thought to your congregation, I would argue that you've only given about half of what you could have.

Take some time on Sunday and Monday and pray for your congregation. Pray that someone would be impacted by the words that you spoke. Pray that they would experience some deepening of faith through God's word spoken in their lives. If no one experiences God's grace in a deeper manner at the end of your sermon, then what was the point?

This has been a really fun series everyone! Thanks for following along! More youth ministry minded things coming later this week!