Craft of Preaching

Sermon Development

Tips for effective proclamation, from advance prep work to gathering feedback.

New Year's Resolutions for Preachers

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"Happy New Year" image by Aftab Uzzaman via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.


Twelve resolutions for preachers, in no particular order:

  1. Show your work
    Try doing a little exegetical show and tell. During a sermon, bring your Bible with you. Step away from the pulpit, if you preach from one, and encourage people in the congregation to open their Bibles with you to the chosen passage. If you use screens, project the text – using only one or two lines per slide and a clear white font on a black background.

    As you read the text, share insights you gained from your exegetical work. These can fit into the overall theme of your sermon, but they don’t have to directly relate. They can be asides or even interesting tidbits. The point is to give your congregation the feeling of doing exegesis with you. You’re inviting them to be in their Bibles as you are with them.

    If your congregation isn’t accustomed to bringing Bibles to worship, invite them to use a Pew Edition – or look on an app on their phones. Luther Seminary grads in the first five years of their first call can supply their congregation with pew Bibles for free using this program.

  2. Try a new style
    Summer is a great time to experiment with your preaching, but you can also do this during midweek Lenten services or on special Sundays. If you’re a manuscript preacher, try using notes for a Sunday. Challenge yourself to do a sermon that includes time for people in the congregation to turn and discuss a question with each other.

    Try writing a modern-day parable that fits the text for the day. Don’t expect perfection, but do expect the Holy Spirit to show up powerfully when you vulnerably try something new.

  3. Take Saturdays off
    You’ll often be called for other church work on Saturdays, especially weddings and funerals. But in 2018, try to develop a preaching/writing schedule that leaves Saturdays open. This means more time free when the rest of the world is off, and it leaves room for last-minute Spirit-led intervention on Saturday night, rather than having Saturday as primary writing time.

    I like to have my sermon “done” on Thursday, leaving Friday and Saturday off from everything except final tweaks. Challenge yourself to create a schedule for writing: I outline on Mondays, research on Tuesdays, and write/make slides on Thursdays. Doesn’t mean my sermon is finished, but it does mean the bulk of work is done before the weekend.

  4. Find new places to gather material
    If you find yourself mining the same spots for sermon illustrations, look for some new sources. If you regularly tell personal stories, look to the news for inspiration. If you never tell personal stories, consider incorporating one.

  5. Read the news
    A preacher should keep the Bible in his/her right hand, and the news in his/her left hand. Being informed is part of being prophetic. Find a few trusted news sites and sign up for their free newsletters.

  6. Read great writing
    Find classic novelists or non-fiction writers, or even poetry or magazine writers, who you believe use words exceptionally well. Make time to read these writers, and in doing so expand your own word choice for preaching.

  7. Try a series
    Try a sermon series and choose your own texts for 4-6 weeks. You can use an established pattern, such as a book of the Bible or the Lord’s Prayer. Or you can do a topical series that fits a particular need in your context: grief, apathy, despair, living fully, why church matters, aging, parenting, moving, etc.

  8. Preach longer/shorter
    If you regularly preach 8-10 minutes, challenge yourself to do a teaching style sermon of around 15-20 minutes. If you regularly preach teaching sermons 25-30 minutes, challenge yourself to a more traditional proclamation sermon of 10-15 minutes. A word of advice: keep that total service length the same, and people won’t even notice the change in length.

  9. Listen to great preaching
    Find a podcast or preacher who resonates with you and make time to listen to him or her.

  10. Use images/media
    If you don’t regularly use images or media, make an effort to do so, especially if your congregation has screens. See my previous article on digital preaching for more tips.

  11. Give your listeners homework/words to take home
    Leave your listeners with a few things to take home for the week ahead. Give them short 1- to 5-word sayings that represent your theme for the week. Leave them with a challenge for the week ahead that gives them a way to apply your message in their daily lives. Make this inclusive to all the different listeners you have: old and young, male and female, black and white, gay and straight, etc.

  12. Share your pulpit
    Think purposefully about Sundays where you will share your pulpit with a preacher who is different from you. If you’re a man, invite a woman; if you’re white, invite a person of color; if you’re a Baby Boomer; invite a millennial. Be purposeful about having your congregation hear unique voices and perspectives.

Bonus Resolution: Find a way to record yourself preaching, and then watch it! Video is better than audio, so you can see yourself. This is the best way to improve your delivery!

I’ll be praying for you in 2018! God is speaking ... through your words.

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