Pastors, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching

Sermon Delivery Tips

Use your movement and gestures on the platform as visuals- The Art of the Sermon, Rob Bell. Ex: When telling the parable of the Prodigal Son, introduce the oldest son by standing on one side of the platform. Then introduce the younger son by standing on the other end of the platform. Introduce the father by standing in the middle. This communicates the relational separation between the sons and places the father “in the middle”.

Keep in mind that some members of the congregation are abstract thinkers, while others are more concrete thinkers. Ex. When talking about the importance of Bible study, communicate to abstract thinkers by explaining how Bible study feeds our souls. You could illustrate this by describing how a life without Bible study wilts like a houseplant that doesn’t get watered. For concrete thinkers, give them practical and realistic goals for Bible study. Ex: Give them a daily Bible reading plan. Suggest various times of the day at which they could carve out 10 minutes for Bible study. Bring devotionals or Bible study helps with you, as props, to show to them.

The best public speakers talk fast, slowing down for dramatic effect. The congregation can process information twice as fast as the average speaking speed, so you could talk twice as fast as you do, and the congregation would still be able to process what you’re saying. Talking fast communicates energy, as well- Unleashing the Word, Adam Hamilton.

When preaching, be more energetic then you think you need to be. The audience’s level of energy will not be as high as yours, so to keep the congregation motivated to sit through your sermon, be as high energy as you can authentically be. Be appropriate to cultural expectation, however. Ex: Don’t preach like a Pentecostal in a reserved congregation. Respect the cultural norms of your audience. Missionaries call this contextualization.

Use images, props, PowerPoint, video, dramatic acting, testimonies etc., but use them wisely. Do not allow the technology to take over the sermon. Video clips should be no more than 1-2 minutes in length- Unleashing the Word, Adam Hamilton. As you prepare the sermon, ask, “How can I illustrate this? How can I act this out? What picture would shed light on this point? What props would connect for the congregation?- The Art of the Sermon, Rob Bell

Provide sermon notes that coincide with the PowerPoint presentation, if you use one. Make sure all wording and order matches between the screen and the notes. At the beginning of your sermon, invite the congregation to take out their sermon notes, and remind them that, by this Wednesday, they will have forgotten most of what they do not write down.

Keep in mind the various learning styles (at least 3 of them) present in the congregation and appeal to each of them- visual, auditory, tactile- The Handbook for Multi-Sensory Worship, vol. 2, Kim Miller. For example, use a primary image for the sermon or sermon series, and use video, PowerPoint, or props in your sermon for visual learners (compare the spiritual life as a garden to be cultivated). Auditory is covered by your speaking voice, but you could incorporate music or mnemonic devices, as well. Tactile learners want to touch something, to learn by doing. Ex. Give everyone a slice of an apple as they enter the sanctuary. As it turns brown during the sermon, explain how sin leads to decay in your lives – from a Rob Bell sermon.

Never feign emotion during your sermon. I know at least a couple of pastors who employ a fake weepy voice when trying to evoke an emotional response from the congregation. If your emotion is real, then it is fine in moderation. Just don’t fake emotion.

Look for distracting habits during your sermon delivery like saying “um”, “ya know”, “right?”, clearing your throat, etc. Every unnecessary noise we make during our sermon distracts the congregation every time they hear it. We are often unaware of these habits, so to catch them, record your sermons, or better yet, videotape them, to critique your delivery and remove unnecessary habits.

Again, videotape your sermons in order to critique them.

Ask someone to take notes during your sermon and eliminate unnecessary material and habits. Don’t be defensive when they give you honest feedback or explain all of the reasons why you do these unnecessary things. Just say thank you. Their feedback is golden –Unleashing the Word, Adam Hamilton.

When referencing maps of the Holy Land or some other still photo that requires the congregation to focus on one part of it, instead of using a laser pointer, use a telestrator program that allows you to write on the map live during your sermon- from an Adam Hamilton sermon. There are several expensive ways to do this, but I believe that PowerPoint and a program called Omnidazzle both allow you to write on your PowerPoint presentation in real time, as well. (During his sermons, Bill Hybels often writes on large pads of paper on easels, and the IMAG screens enable the congregation to see a close up of what he is writing.)

There is a difference between being enamored with your message and being enamored with yourself. Insightful people in your congregation will know the difference.

See “Sermon Delivery Tips II”

See “Sermon Writing Tips”

Pastors, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Preaching

Sermon Writing Tips

The first rule of public speaking: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Communicate to them in ways that are culturally appropriate to them- Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, Steven and Susan Beebe.

Construct the sermon in the form of several 3-5 minute information chunks. Types of chunks may include Scripture explanation, illustrations, application, video clips, stories, historical information, etc. 3-5 minutes is the attention span of 21st century Americans. How you organize the various types of info chunks will largely determine whether you can keep your audience’s attention throughout the entire sermon- Creating Messages That Connect, Alan Nelson.

Do not place two of the same kind of chunks back to back. If you do, it will wear on your audience. An example of good placement of info chunks: Intro, Scripture reading, explanation of Scripture text, point one, video clip illustrating point one, application of point one, point two, illustration of point two, application of point two, point three, testimony that embodies the main point of the sermon, conclusion. Of course, sermons will vary from this style. Just remember to not use the same kinds of info chunks back to back.

3 basic parts to the sermon

Intro- tell them what you’re going to tell themBody- tell themConclusion- tell then what you told them

(Later Correction- Eugene Lowry just blew this apart for me with a little thing called “plot”- see The Homiletical Plot, page 21).

Use humor to provide comedic relief. I prefer more witty and thoughtful humor than canned jokes that are found on the internet. Funny stories about things that have happened to you are probably best. Humor is particularly helpful to provide comedic relief to the congregation after you have told a somber story or after you have given a more “intellectual” info chunk like the history of crucifixion in the Ancient Near East (who wouldn’t need a good laugh after this?)

Know the dramatic flow of the sermon- Story by Robert McKee. Think of the sermon as a movie. How do (good) movies keep someone’s attention for two hours? They keep our attention by employing dramatic flow.

As you write your sermon, ask questions like, “How does the introduction (first scene) provide the setting for the sermon? Where do dramatic turns of events happen? Where does comedic relief fit in?, How do I flesh out the characters?, How can I surprise the audience with a twist?, How do I advance the story line?, How do I raise and alleviate tension?, How can I build suspense and then reveal answers? How do I bring resolution at the end (conclusion)?, etc.”

Ex: In a sermon on why God allows suffering, you explain in the intro that most Christians do not realize how difficult this question is for the Christian faith. You tell them that most pastors provide the “God wanted humans to have freewill” answer but explain that philosophers have shown that this answer does not adequately answer the question of why God allows suffering.

Your honesty surprises the congregation, tips their apple cart, setting up the dramatic element of suspense about how you will deal with the problem of evil in your sermon. By setting up suspense, you guarantee their attention for at least 5 more minutes. Isn’t that comforting? ☺

Know the emotional flow of the entire sermon. You want most sermons to look like a large “U”, to begin up and end up, with more serious info chunks woven throughout the middle of the sermon. Begin happy and end happy, unless you are calling people to a serious decision at the end of the sermon, then you can end on a more somber, urgent note. –The Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren

Know what each info chunk is doing to the congregation emotionally and provide contrasting info chunks to balance this. An emotional story will be appreciated by the congregation but will also be emotionally draining. Follow an emotional story with a more “intellectual” info chunk or with a joke that eases them back “up”. Follow jokes with a serious point. Follow a sad story with something more upbeat- The Art of the Sermon, Rob Bell.

Write your sermons far in advance of preaching them. This allows you to “live with” the sermon for a long period of time. It preaches to you, so to speak, so when you deliver the sermon, it will come from a place of authenticity and will be more real to the congregation as well. This also helps you to collect the best illustrations. Always have your antenna up for stories, events, pictures, blogs articles, examples, quotes, statistics, etc. that will match with your sermon- The Art of the Sermon, Rob Bell; Unleashing the Word, Adam Hamilton

Adam Hamilton plans sermon series two years in advance! He has organized trips to the Holy Land and to Africa and then shown videos taken during the trip as illustrations- awesome intentionality!).

Illustrate every point in your sermon. Points without illustrations will not be taken seriously by the congregation. They will believe that if it isn’t important enough for you to illustrate it, then it isn’t important enough for them to remember it.

Make one point in your sermon. Even if you preach a three point sermon, every point should support the one MAIN point. You should have written and refined that one main point in one clear, concise, powerfully worded sentence. This is your thesis statement. This should be stated in your introduction clearly and concisely. This communicates to the audience that you know what you’re going to talk about and that you’re not going to take them down some long winding path to nowhere.

Only use material in your sermon that supports the main point. If it doesn’t support the main point, cut it out of the sermon. Don’t delete it, however. Save it in another file, and use it in a later sermon when it does support the main point.

Make it your goal in every sermon to move the congregation emotionally, teach them excellently, and give them some piece of interesting information they have ever heard before- Leadership Institute 2009, Adam Hamilton.

Know when to end the sermon. Don’t circle the airport three times before you land the plane by winding down your delivery as through you are ending and then making another point. Your delivery should slow down a little right before the end as you are dramatically reminding the congregation of your main point in the conclusion of your sermon.

Be a learner, a reader, so that your illustrations, vocabulary, and conversation can appeal to a wide range of people. You will be able to vary your illustrations from week to week to include the interests of your diverse congregation- men, women, sports fans, artists, businesspersons, students, the young and old. This will make your preaching more relevant to more people. Don’t get stuck in a rut of talking about only what interests you. –Community of Kindness, Steve Sjogren

You will probably title your sermons according to the culture of your church and your own style. If your style and church’s culture match Rick Warren’s, then make your sermon titles reflect the actual application of your sermon’s main point. Ex. If your sermon’s main point is “Trust God to guide you even when you can’t see what God is doing”, then your title might be, “How to Trust God When You Can’t See What God is Doing”.

It seems simplistic, but how many sermons have we heard with bizarre, meaningless titles? Use sermon titles that make a person want to hear what you have to say- Purpose-Driven Church, Rick Warren. Rob Bell uses more artistic, witty titles because that fits his style and culture, but I think his titles still accomplish the goal of making his congregation want to hear the sermon.

I write out my sermons in full manuscript form, but I do not read it when I deliver the sermon! I find that when I preach after writing a manuscript, I have automatically committed it to memory. I write my sermons in manuscript form for several reasons:

  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to consolidate and organize my ideas.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to refine my language for maximum clarity, conciseness, and impact.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to have the manuscript on the platform with me in case I forget something.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon helps me to not forget something.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to know how long my sermon is. With my delivery speed, 1 page of Times New Roman font, 12 pt., single spaced = 5 minutes of preaching time. I usually write 5-6 pages per sermon. I number each page on the bottom right hand corner, so I can see the next page number as I pick up the bottom right hand corner of the page to turn it. I don’t staple the pages together, so I can turn them easily. Details. Details.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon provides extra material that I cut from that sermon but save for later sermons… and it is already written.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon helps me to live with the sermon, let it speak to me, and form me before I preach it.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to email it to trusted friends to critique it and suggest ideas before I deliver it.
  • Writing several drafts of the sermon enables me to… write several drafts of the sermon. In other words, what the congregation hears has been thought through, and I am not inflicting my unedited ideas on them straight from the hip.

Train other less experienced preachers by giving them the topic on which you are preaching and allowing them to write their own sermons on that topic. Then, share your sermons with each other and critique them the Friday before you preach yours.

Pastors, Preaching, Sermon Illustrations, Uncategorized

James Cameron on Story Telling

CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me what’s the most important thing you know about
story telling.

JAMES CAMERON: You have to find a key into the heart of the audience,
which means you have to find universals of human experience and then
express them in exotic new ways. So you’ve got to find something that
people recognize, simple as boy meets girl on a ship which is going to

But the knowledge that it’s going to sink was a critical part of that
story telling, because otherwise you had two hours of women in corsets and
funny hats before anything happened, before the ship even hit the iceberg.
But if you know it’s sinking, you hang around for all that. You see what I
mean? So that was a part of the story telling.

But I think it’s always about the characters and about how those
characters express something that the audience is feeling. So it has to
have some universality to it having to do with relationships, where it’s
parent/child, male/female, whatever it is. And then you have to take them
on a journey. And then you have to make it excruciating somehow.

CHARLIE ROSE: Excruciating?

JAMES CAMERON: Excruciating.

CHARLIE ROSE: They have to be challenged. They have to be in danger.
They have to be in pain.

JAMES CAMERON: That’s right. They have to be in fear.

CHARLIE ROSE: And triumphant.

JAMES CAMERON: And triumphant, yes.

JAMES CAMERON: Right, that’s an element of it, some form of triumph.

JAMES CAMERON: Some form of triumph, exactly.

CHARLIE ROSE: Whether it’s values, or a victory, something.

JAMES CAMERON: Yes. In the case of “Titanic” everybody died,
including at the very end of the film the main character. But she lived a
life that she had learned. There was an energy transfer from one character
to another, which I also think is a fundamental of a love story, that
there’s some flow of energy from one character to the other.

And so I applied that rule set at a very abstract level to “Avatar,”
because it’s a very different story, obviously — different setting,
different characters, different goals to the story and to the

But there’s — I think you can step back to a very abstract level of
general principles, and if you apply those principles, it will work.


Resources for Pastors


Unleashing the Word by Adam Hamilton

A detailed, practical resource on sermon series planning and prep from an excellent preacher/teacher

The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection website, led by Adam Hamilton

Story by Robert McKee

A manual for movie screenwriters. Write your sermons as if they were movies. Excellent resource!

The Homiletical Plot by Eugene L. Lowry

An early book on narrative preaching. It’s worth the money just to see Lowry’s funky beard on the back cover.

Creating Messages that Connect by Alan Nelson

Write your messages in the form of “info chunks” to keep your audience’s attention.

The Art of the Sermon (DVD) by Rob Bell

See the sermon as performance art. Also contains nuts and bolts of sermon prep, Rob Bell style.

Church Planting

Community of Kindness by Steve Sjogren

A practical and realistic guide to church planting

E-Myth Mastery by Michael E. Gerber

Entrepreneurship from the business world

Launch by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas

How to launch a new church in six months!

Thoughts from a leading Baptist church planter

Purple Cow by Seth Godin

Make your church plant remarkable.


Leading Beyond the Walls by Adam Hamilton

An all-purpose look at how Adam Hamilton planted and led the largest United Methodist Church in America (17,000 members)

Making Vision Stick by Andy Stanley

A vision must-have

Holy Discontent by Bill Hybels

Zero in with laser-like focus on what God is calling you to do.

Tribes by Seth Godin

How movements are created and led

The Very Large Church: New Rules for New Leaders by Lyle E. Schaller

What factors create a large and growing church


Activate by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas

A realistic new model for small group ministry

Fusion by Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas

A model of assimilation that takes care of the details

House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity by Roger W. Gehring

A more acedemic treatment of the role of house churches in the early Church and what it could mean for the Church in the 21st century (It’s possible that in 20 years, fully functioning house churches will be the norm in America. What we now think of as “church”, a weekend gathering, will serve as the central hub of the house church network. See Xenos.)


The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today by Theodore Runyon

The following resources were recommended by Rev. Derik Hines, Teaching Pastor, Community Church of Joy, Glendale, AZ

Our Father Abraham by Marvin Wilson

Jesus the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg

Pastors, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas, Uncategorized

Not Into Temptation

Listen to the new sermon “Not Into Temptation” at I gave this sermon at Stonybrook on 2.21.10.

I’ve been working on creating narrative sermons after re-reading Eugene Lowry’s The Homiletical Plot and Robert McKee’s guide for movie screenwriters, Story. This sermon, “Not Into Temptation”, is the first narrative sermon I have ever given after being intentional about writing a narrative sermon. I’m working on another one for March entitled “Deliver Us from Evil”, both from Matthew 6v13.