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(c) Rowan Stocks Moore

Time is relative

A 20 minute sermon can feel like 10 minutes and a 10 minute sermon can feel like 50 minutes. But people seem to like a sermon that feels like 20 minutes. But that doesn’t mean you need to preach for 20 minutes. That means you need to find out how long feels like 20 minutes when you preach. And it might be longer or it might be shorter.

Everybody has an opinion

This isn’t a bad thing or a good thing. It’s just a thing. And lots of people have heard lots of sermons and they know what they like and don’t like. And they have opinions on introductions, illustrations, conclusions, the use of “you” or “we/us”, number of points, appropriate length, blah blah blah. And in one sense it’s good that they have an opinion because it shows that they care about the whole thing. But everyone does have an opinion.

Choose your critics

People will often have conflicting feedback on the same sermon. I can’t remember how many times after a sermon two people will give me polar opposite feedback. “I liked the clear structure.” “I like the more conversational, lack of structure.” “I liked the high amount of illustrations.” “I liked how you just let the text speak and didn’t try and illustrate it.” They can’t all be right. Maybe none of them are and it’s just a style thing. Either way, you need to work out the critics you trust – not the haters and not the fan boys but the honest ones who know what they’re talking about – and listen to them the most carefully. Working out who they are can be a challenge, however.

Get it clear before you start

The temptation is to just start writing. And so you do your exegesis and you work out a bit of a structure, but the clock is ticking and so you feel the pressure to just start writing. But if you start writing before you get it clear what the text is saying and so what you need to be saying then you waste heaps more time writing stuff that ends up being garbage. You scrap whole points. You scrap whole structures. You think up a more arresting thread to tie it all together but that means tweaking everything you’ve got.

It’s like you start with a lo-res jpeg of where you need to go, then when you begin to scale it up to a full sermon it just pixelates badly and ends up an ugly and confusing mush of colour. What you need is a high-res thumbnail so that when you scale it up it still looks crisp and sharp and arresting.

Don’t work on everything at once

Of course there’ll be lots of things you’ll need to work on. And of course, if you try hard enough, you can pick anything to shreds no matter how good it is. And it’s tempting to just work on all things at once. But it won’t work. Instead, just pick one thing: eliminating “ums”, keeping your feet planted to stop rocking like you’re on a boat, stop twisting your wedding ring, make your conclusions more effective and stop relying on “Amen” as a crutch to signal “I’ve stopped”, make your hand gestures less erratic and more in line with your content, work on the clarity of your exegesis, develop a more helpful structure, talk slower, pause more etc etc. Just pick one thing and focus on mastering it over the next 4 or so sermons. Then pick another thing and master that. Just do it one at a time.

Learn the frameworks then forget them

The frameworks are good and they are developed for a reason. The 3 points: explain, illustrate, apply framework is a classic and for good reason. It helps you develop the skills. It helps you craft a half-decent sermon no matter how rubbish you are. But you also need to develop your own style. There’s no moral value attached to that framework. But the problem is some people think there is. And so their criticism will revolve around the framework: “You’re second point didn’t have an illustration.” “You only had two points.”

Ignore those people.

Work out the way that you best communicate. Learn the framework, but then like training wheels on a bike eventually you get rid of them. Not because they weren’t helpful and good, but because they were.