How Often should Preachers Practice their Sermon?

I’ve served in ministry over 35 years and I’ve preached a lot of sermons. Some have been good and some, well, not so good. Three factors have made the biggest positive difference for me: preparing my heart before the Lord, scheduling adequate study time to avoid feeling rushed, and practicing preaching my sermon. In this blog I suggest a few benefits from practice and describe my practice/preparation process.

As a framework, a few insights about me.

  • I’m not an A++ communicator. I’d say I’m a solid B+. God has gifted me with a good mind and relatively good speaking abilities, but I don’t command a multi-thousand person church audience. I’ll speak to several hundred people on an average Sunday.
  • I don’t have a photographic memory that allows me to memorize my sermons.
  • I don’t have unlimited energy, need 8 hours of sleep at night, and go into a semi-comotose mode at about 8:30 each night. So, I can’t pick up extra study hours at night. If study gets done, it must happen during daylight hours.
  • I study slow. I can’t quickly craft a message. Even after three decades of doing it, I still need 15 hours or so to create a message, excluding practice time.

Even with my limitations, I’ve discovered that practicing my sermon yields several benefits.

  1. Familiarity: When I practice, I become more familiar with the homiletic part (how will I say it), a different kind of familiarity than hermeneutic familiarity (what the Bible says).
  2. Improvement: When I practice my message, I notice how I can say things differently which improves what I eventually do say.
  3. Shortening: Practice often helps me realize that I can remove some parts of my sermon without affecting the message I want to convey. I almost always shorten my sermon as I practice it.
  4. Confidence: The more familiar I become with my sermon, the less I have to think about what “comes next” when I preach which increases my confidence during delivery.
  5. Memory: Although I don’t memorize my messages (I work from a complete manuscript), the more I practice, the more it imbeds into my subconscious which frees me to connect better with the congregation through eye contact and body language when I deliver it.
  6. Timing: I usually try to use humor in each message. Professional comedians practice a lot to improve timing in their humor. When I practice, it helps me improve my timing.

Here’s my routine.

  • I complete my study and write my manuscript at least two weeks ahead of time.
  • On the Thursday prior to the Sunday when I will deliver it, I review it again, tweak it, and highlight key phrases (all in Microsoft Word).
    • I save it as a PDF to my iPad app Notability, one of the best PDF markup apps available. I preach from an iPad mini, instead of paper notes. You can read about my experience with an iPad here.
    • I go to an upstairs closet in the church and preach it out loud once.
  • On Friday, I slowly and silently review it, further tweaking it directly on Notability.
  • On Saturday, I preach in out loud in my bedroom closet (second practice).
  • On Sunday morning, I practice it out loud one more time in my closet (third practice).

So, I practice it out loud three times and silently tweak it twice.

I’ve found that this pattern allows me to best prepare, without overdoing the practice.

What is your prep routine?

Related posts:

9 Ways to Boost Brain Power

God gave each of us a two-pound dynamo called the human brain. It’s truly the most amazing physical object in the universe. Yet, many people (and leaders) don’t take care of their brains and later in life they pay the price. However, we can keep boost our brain power and keep our brains healthy and humming along with 9 simple choices.

First, some sobering facts about the brain.

  1. Our brain’s overall volume decrease 5% per decade after the age of 40.
  2. Dendrites at the end of our brain cells (think of the roots of a tree) begin to decline starting in our twenties. The more ‘bushy’ our dendrites, the better and more efficient our brain processes information.
  3. Gray matter (brain cells called neurons) also begin to decline starting in our mid-20’s.
  4. The insulation (called myelin) that wraps around the tail of a neuron (called an axon) thins as we age. The thicker the myelin the faster the electrical impulses travel along the axon. And, faster is better.
  5. The receptors for the neurotransmitter chemical called dopamine decreases. This chemical plays a major role in attention, learning, and reward.

These brain changes lead to memory loss, decreased attention, slowed mental processing, and lessens our ability to learn. However, even with these sobering facts, we can reduce the rate of cognitive decline and keep our brains healthy by applying these 9 choices

9 Ways to Boost Brain Power

  1. Get moving.
    • Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain. When we exercise, a chemical called BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor) is released and it keeps our neurons healthy. Some call it the brain’s Miracle Grow.
  2. Use it our lose it.
    • Think of your brain as a muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. The more we use our brain, the more we create something called cognitive reserve, the brain’s savings account. As we age, the more cognitive reserve we have developed, the more capacity the brain has to reallocate functions to other regions of the brain from regions that may not be working as well.
  3. Make lots of friends. 
    • Staying connected to others in community helps keep your brain fresh.
  4. Volunteer/serve others.
    • People who volunteer have a much less chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease and have less stress. Prolonged stress on the body can actually shrink our brain, especially in our memory center.
  5. Keep you devotional life strong.
    • At the end of our chromosomes lie tiny end caps called telemeres, much like the plastic sleeves at the end of our shoe laces. Scientists have discovered a positive correlation to the length of these end caps and longevity. In studies of those who regularly mediate, their chromosomes consistenly have longer telemeres. So, a daily quiet time may help you live longer.
  6. Don’t veg in front of the TV.
    • In some sobering new research, scientists have discovered that watching too much TV can alter the brain structure of children in areas related to verbal intelligence. So, monitor the amount of TV you watch.
  7. Eat your spinach.
    • A healthy diet is crucial for brain health. Foods such as dark leafy veggies, blueberries, green tea, and those rich in omega-3 fatty acids (the brain’s building blocks) bodes well for a healthy brain. Some supplements such MCT oil, vitamins E and B, and CoQ10 may also boost brain power. Learn more here about some of the best brain supplements.
  8. Learn something new.
    • The brain loves novelty. When we learn something new (learn a new skill or develop a new hobby), we actually encourage growth of new brain cells.
  9. Get adequate sleep.
    • When we sleep the brain is quite active. It consolidates what we learned that day into long-term memory and helps grow new neurons in our memory center (the hippocampus). Sleep also clears out a deposit called beta amyloid that accumulates in Alzheimer’s disease.

Take care of your brain and it will serve you well. Since the brain is part of the body, we should heed the words of the Apostle Paul.

1Cor. 6.19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (NIV)

If you are interested in how brain insight can help improve leadership, check out my last book , Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry. 

Related posts:

Just Because You are Competent to Develop a New Competency, Should You?

As leaders we all face the challenge to choose the right priorities, work on our weaknesses, and wisely manage our time. Once in a conversation with leaders this phrase stood out. “Just because we may have the competency to develop new competencies, should we?”

  In other words, how can we discern when to give time, resources, and attention to learning something new, working on a personal deficit, or developing a new skill or competency? Consider these questions as you discern a potential new direction.

Before I suggest a few questions, it’s worth noting that in the last few years some influential movements have arisen that bear upon this question.

  • The simplicity movement in the church (i.e., Thom Rainer’s book Simple Church)
  • Focusing on your strengths (Gallup’s 30 year strength’s based research resulting in the popular book Strengths Based Leadership)
  • Positive psychology (psychological interventions that focus not so much on our problems, but upon the good stuff in our lives)

As I’m closing in on my 64 year mark, I realize that I don’t have the energy I did when I was thirty, and that as I age, my brain simply slows down. Actually, we begin to lose brain cells beginning in our mid-twenties, a sobering thought. So, I must wisely manage my energy, time, and passion to focus on that which I believe God wants me to accomplish in my final decades.

So the next time you consider giving significant time to a new project, addressing a personal weakness, or developing a new competency, ask yourself these questions.

  1. Would this choice reinforce my God-given strengths and gifts?
  2. Would it increase my potential to maximize Kingdom impact?
  3. Does it fit within my life purpose? If you are not clear on your life purpose and personal values, this blog shows you how to create them.
  4. Am I doing it because I’m trying to please somebody? For in-depth practical help on avoiding unhealthy people pleasing, you can check out my book on the subject here.
  5. Have I carefully considered the trade-offs? Everything we add to our plate means something else has to go.

So the next time you must decide whether or not to develop a new competency or take on something new, let these questions guide your decision making.

What has helped you determine what you should add to your plate?

Related posts:

4 Simple Decisions that Can Boost Personal Productivity

Our church is growing and as we grow, our staff faces greater demands on their time. So, we must work smarter. Since I’m trying to build a learning culture here at West Park Church, I asked myself, “How can I help our staff work smarter?” I’ve adapted and used the Getting Things Done process for years, but sometimes it seems cumbersome. Recently, however, I discovered insights from a Microsoft employee who wrote the book, Getting Results the Agile Way. (I highly recommend it) It’s a simple process that helps improve personal productivity. I’ve summarized below the 4 simple decisions he suggests that can help boost our productivity. I’m beginning to apply them and they really work.

THE FOUR DECISIONS

  1. Monday vision: every Monday look at your week and determine the top three things you hope to accomplish. Write them down.
  2. Daily Outcomes: every day determine the top three things you want to accomplish. Write them down.
  3. Rule of Three: as you might have guessed it, practice the rule of three. That is, keep your high priority daily and weekly task/project lists to three items.
  4. Friday Reflection: on Friday look at what you accomplished, what you learned, and what you hope to do differently the following week.

This seems so simple that it seems simplistic. But, that’s it’s beauty.

Less is often more. Simple is often better.

 In his book he expands upon these principles, and many more.

Here’s how we’ve tried to incorporate this insight.

  • Some time back for several weeks each week we read 2-3 chapters of the book.
  • When we met in our weekly staff meeting we discussed our learnings.
  • I created four posters reflecting the four key insights above and as a reminder I taped them to our conference room wall where we met.

This author is quite unselfish. He offers a 30-day free plan here where he takes one key insight and expands it each day for 30 days.

As I seek to boost my productivity, while keeping healthy margins, I’m reminded that the Bible even tells us to use our time wisely.

  • Making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5.16, ESV)
  • So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Ps 90.12, ESV)

How can you boost your productivity this week?

Related posts:

Is a Pastor’s Job a Calling or a Career?

My good friend Godfrey Thorogood is one of the smartest guys around when it comes to church leadership. He served as FEB Central’s Leadership Development Director in Ontario and now is pastor at Thousand Oaks Baptist Church in Ontario. He’s worked with literally hundreds of pastors and once shared with me that he noticed a disturbing trend among pastors. I asked him to write this insightful guest post.

As I ask myself if ministry is a calling or a career, my mind goes back to the day in May 1978 when God spoke to my heart and said “Godfrey, I want you to help people.” I soon discovered that the manner in which God wanted me to help people was by becoming a pastor. Throughout the past 36 years, God has reminded me many times of that specific call to help people through pastoral ministry.

Since I know I was called by God to be a pastor, that call has driven my passion to serve God and to serve His church. Even at times when my passion waned and I wrestled with staying in pastoral ministry, God would take me back to His specific call upon my life, which in turn would renew my passion.

Over the past few years, I have seen the trend of some men viewing pastoral ministry as a career rather than a call.

As I come alongside to assist pastoral search teams in our churches, I occasionally hear from those search teams that some of the men whom they talk with seem to lack passion as a pastor and preacher. These search teams pick up very quickly that some of the men whom they talk with view the pastoral opportunity at a particular church as a way to advance their career rather than fulfill God’s call upon their lives.

When I finished serving as an intern in my home church, and was called to serve as assistant pastor in another church, the pastor of my home church told me not to view my role as assistant pastor as a stepping stone to future ministry. He said, “God may choose to use it that way, but go into the role with the mindset that God has called you to serve in the church at this time for however long He wants you to serve there”. He also said “Serve with passion, joy and with loyalty to your senior pastor and fulfill God’s call upon your life as assistant pastor in the church”.

I believe the words of my pastor are good words for all of us as pastors to be reminded of today.

Let’s not forget that we have been called to serve as a pastor. Take some time to read through Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. Note the passionate statements Paul makes about his own life and ministry. Make his statements your statements as you think about your current place of pastoral ministry. Ask God to continually reignite your passion for serving God and His church.

What do you think about this view that a pastor should view his role as a calling versus a career?

You can reach Godfrey here.

Related posts: