In the little church where I was baptized, the head elder snored while the pastor preached. It was a regular Sabbath event to watch and see how long the elder could stay awake as he sat behind the preacher. Yes, the sermon left something to be desired, but sermon delivery isn't easy, even for professionally trained ministers.
Sermon preparation requires lots of thinking, and thinking is the hardest thing a human being can do. The old saying is, "Five percent of the people think; 10 percent think they think; and 85% would rather die than think."
When you sit down to prepare a sermon and begin to think your way through the presentation, it seems your mind will do anything to escape the process. You suddenly remember the yard needs mowing, the dishes need washing, the dog needs shampooing and the cat needs to be put out. Your mind will find endless excuses to keep you from beginning your preparation. Be persistent! Someone has said, "If I spend 20 hours preparing for a sermon, I can preach 30 minutes exactly. However, if I spend 10 hours preparing, I can preach 40 minutes or so, and if I don't spend any time preparing, I can preach all day long!" As one ill-prepared preacher told his wife on the way to church, "This sermon may not be fantastic but it sure is fresh."
Delivering a sermon is a lot like driving a car, you learn a few elementary things such as operating the brakes and the gas, then you memorize some basic traffic rules and after you pass a test you're given a license. However, if you decide you want to graduate from a Model-T Ford and become a driver in the Indianapolis 500, things change drastically. It doesn't take long to realize that a race car is a much more complex machine reacting to aerodynamic forces and all sorts of physical laws of which you never dreamed. So too, is the relative degree of complexity that separates a poor sermon from a good sermon. Would be sermonizers, this article is intended to help you understand the basics and become a good speaker. Sorry, but you'll probably have to get classroom training to become an Indy class sermon driver. However, you should remember that, "God takes men as they are and educates them for His service, if they will yield themselves to Him. The Spirit of God, received into the soul, quickens all its facilities" (Gospel Workers, p. 285).
Let's begin by defining a sermon. A sermon is a picture you make by using words for paint and your hearers' minds as a canvas. A sermon must have one specific purpose that is as obvious as the theme of a Norman Rockwell painting. When Rockwell pictured a family gathered around the table with a large turkey being carved, everyone immediately knew the theme was Thanksgiving. Sermon word pictures should be as clear as a Rockwell painting.
The super salesman Frank Bettger said, "Show people what they want and how to get it, and they will move heaven and earth to get it." Sermons are your opportunities to show people how to satisfy the longing God has put in their hearts. It is not telling someone what to do, instead, both the speaker and the listener hear the word of God. You preach His word by standing between God and man and persuading men and women, boys and girls to accept God's love for them. Well crafted sermons influence people to make life changing decisions; they are not just entertainment or random thoughts. Regardless of your education or training, you are expected to do your best. Steven Vitrano writes in his book How to Preach:
You are not a professional public speaker or preacher. Therefore, you may have to settle for less than the ideal. But you are not excused from doing your best. You are not free to step into the pulpit on Sabbath morning and just fill the hour. The pulpit is not the place for you to tell of your trips abroad, the churches you have visited, and the wonderful Adventist friends you have met, except as you use such experiences to illustrate the point. The pulpit is not the place for you to ride some hobbyhorse of doctrine (no matter how basic it may be), to whip the saints for being so unsaintly, or to fumble and stumble through some article you have read. 1
A local church elder told of how the quality of his preaching drastically improved after he started studying and receiving training on how to preach. He said that when he started preaching, his sermons were made up of a few stories and a string of texts. His preaching was poor. He and the congregation both knew it, but he felt that was all that could be expected, so he never tried to improve. However, when he finally began to study and learn about public speaking he soon realized that preaching is a privilege and an honor that should humble the speaker and temper all that is spoken from God's pulpit.
Your sermons do not have to put the congregation to sleep. By God's grace and your hard work, you can enjoy the blessing of sharing the Good News with power and strength from your local pulpit.
YOUR CONGREGATION'S BILL OF RIGHTS
Your congregation has the right to expect that your sermon will be based solidly on the Bible. This means that you will not use the Bible as a launching pad to go into orbit about your pet peeves or favorite topics. Your listeners deserve to have the question answered, "Is there any word from the Lord?"
- Your congregation has the right to expect that you have spent hours in prayer, study and preparation so that you will not waste the thirty minutes of their lives they have given to you.
- Your congregation has the right to expect a sermon more than one mile wide and one-inch deep. You cannot preach the Bible until you know your Bible. The Bible needs to fill your mind, rule your heart and be a lamp unto your feet.
- Your congregation has the right to expect that your sermon will have a clear beginning, middle and ending and that they will know when you have arrived at your final destination.
- Your congregation has the right to expect an Adventist sermon, one with that "certain" sound. Just like Sabbath dinner, they have the right to expect that the meal laid out before them will be one especially made to feed Seventh-day Adventists. They have the right to expect that if you stand behind an Adventist pulpit, you will preach a message that will attempt to move God's Remnant Church forward.
He [Christ] did not preach fanciful doctrines or sensational suppositions designed to gratify the curious or to establish His own prestige with the fickle crowd. So, today, ministers are not to include mere human traditions and opinions in their sermons. Only the Word is adequate to meet the needs of sin-weakened men and women (Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7, p. 347).
1 Steven Vitrano, How to Preach (Hagerstown: Review and Herald Pub. Assn.,1991),p. 87.
Martin Hunt writes from Georgia where he works as pastor.