For the last ten years I have been a graduate student in theology. Very academic, very rigorous, very challenging. My preaching has reflected that. Over the past decade, the feedback I have received from elders and members has had a common theme:

  • Good sermons but sometimes too complicated to follow.
  • Good preaching but sometimes gets off track, too many details, hard to grasp all of the information.
  • Great teacher but sometimes I have a hard time knowing what I am supposed to do as a disciple.

You get the idea.

About a year ago I completed my grad school training for ministry and started dabbling in some more popular books in sermon preparation. How to preach a parable, how to preach so people will listen, how to preach better sermons. The list is extensive.

I even joined a newly-formed group that promises to help me preach better sermons. It is a one-year program that offers coaching, resources, feedback, and other help. I am eager to learn from them.

One thing continues to jump out at me as I reassess my preaching. Whereas the academic world laid a huge emphasis on information, details, nuances, and intellectual rigor, the resources I am now considering recommend things such as:

  • Keep it simple: make sure the message is appropriate for 9th graders.
  • Keep it portable: make sure the main idea is memorable (can I put my entire sermon into a tweet?)
  • Keep it visual: tell a good story, use a vivid object lesson.
  • Keep it compelling: never simply give information. There must be a compelling reason that your hearers need to know the information. Tell them why they need to know what you are telling them, what they need to do in response, and how they can go about doing it.
  • Keep it focused: have only one main point to the message (a sword only has one point).

What is funny is that my sermon preparation is no less rigorous using this paradigm. If anything, it is more intense for a stuffy lug head like me. Creativity is not my strong suit.

But, what is a joy is the fact that preaching this way is a whole lot more fun. A simple sermon is much less complex and so I am less tied to my notes. Being less tied to my notes makes me look at the people more. Looking at the people more gives me immediate feedback on whether they are with me or not. And when they are with me they actually respond once in a while (I love to hear a good “Amen” now and then, don’t you?)

So, you can teach an old dog new tricks. The church deserves some kind of award for enduring preachers the way they do!