Pastors, Preaching

Dragon Naturally Speaking for iPhone

I downloaded the Dragon Naturally Speaking iPhone app for free the other day.

It is a speech recognition software that allows you to dictate 20-30 seconds of speech into your iPhone and then automatically converts your recorded message to text. Then, you can email it, text it, etc.

I’m going to be using it to write sermons without typing when I’m away from my computer. Even though the info chucks are only a paragraph long, it will still be a huge help in sermon prep.

Pastors, Posts I Consider to be the Most Important, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas

Some “Big Day Sermon Series” Ideas

You don’t have to copy these series. Use them to inspire new ideas in you.

What I call a “Big Day Sermon Series” is a series that is designed to speak to felt-needs of people, whether churched or unchurched, that take place around the high attendance days of the church year. Several high-profile pastors have been doing this for years and calling it by various names. Adam Hamilton calls it a Fishing Expedition Series, for example. The Big Days are Christmas, Easter, and Back to School in the Fall, usually after Labor Day.

These Big Day Sermon Series begin the second Sunday after Christmas, the Sunday after Easter, and the Sunday after Labor Day. I send out a 10,000 piece mailer to the community, inviting them to worship with us, before the start of each series.

The way the Big Day Series works with our connection process (sounds better than “assimilation” process) is that we also hold sign-ups for our new 12 week small groups (see Nelson Searcy’s book Activate) during these sermon series. Our hope is that new people will come to worship during the Big Day Series and then sign up for a small group that starts immediately after the Big Day series ends.

I’ve gotten a lot of these ideas from other pastors like Adam Hamilton, Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and others. I’ll share my own ideas after I use them.:)

Big Day Sermon Series Ideas

Back to School (begins the Sunday after Labor Day)

Hostage (
The Vow (
It’s All in Your Mind (
Life Development Plan (
Why Worry? (
Hope When You Hurt (Rick Warren, I think)

January (begins the second Sunday after Christmas)

Love, Sex, & Marriage ( 2002)
Conversations with an Atheist ( 2007)
Where Science and Religion Meet ( 2005)
Doubters Anonymous (
Confessions of a Pastor (
Life. Money. Hope ( w/Dave Ramsey)
God. Love. Sex (

Easter (begins the Sunday after Easter)

Confessions of a Struggling Parent ( 2009)
Seven Simple Truths about LIFE ( 2008)
The Bible and the Afterlife ( 2005) –or – If I Die Before I Wake (
Man to Man ( even better as a Father’s Day series
Baggage (
What’s God’s Will? (
The Denominations of Christianity ( 2005)

Pastors, Preaching

Sermon Delivery Tips II (Repost)

The Sermon Writing and Delivery Tips entries (February 2010) have gotten a lot of hits on my blog, so I’ll add to them from time to time. If you have tips, feel free to click “Leave a Comment” and share them. Here we go…

  • When I use sermon props, I’ve started using a black museum-style pedestal (42′ tall) to display small props during the entire sermon. It sits a couple of feet away from me on the platform, so I can reach it easily when I’m ready to use the prop. Displaying props during the whole sermon builds anticipation as people wonder what you’re going to do with it and also ties the sermon together around a visual image (Rob Bell, The Art of the Sermon/Poets Prophets Preachers). I purchased the pedestal at Home Decorators, and it was a higher quality product than I expected…
  • Small props, even when displayed on the pedestal, can’t be seen in a large congregation. When the point comes in the sermon when I actually use the prop, I put a photo of the prop on the projection screen behind me, so everyone can see it in detail. For example, I’m going to be using a business size envelope with print on it as a prop in an upcoming sermon, and people in the back will not be able to fully see it without a pic on the screen.
  • It’s good to be funny in a sermon, but remember that you’re doing something sacred, and an element of preaching is providing pastoral care to the congregation. My attitude has been a little too cavalier when preaching at times, so I have to remind myself of the sacredness of what I am doing and show that in my attitude. Steve Sjogren writes in Community of Kindness, “Don’t be cute. Be profound.”
  • If you use projection during your sermon, look at the screen occasionally to reference quotes, clips, etc. Looking at the screen occasionally has the psychological effect of joining you with the congregation who are looking at the screen. You and the congregation are experiencing the same thing together.
  • Make sure you properly set up video clips that you’re showing. I have seen pastors who thought it was a cool dramatic effect to play videos without setting them up at all. I thought it just looked dorky and disjointed. Set the clip up so the congregation sees in the clip what you want them to see. Explain to them why you’re showing it before you show it. Then after the clip, unpack the meaning of the clip. Again, clips should only be 1-2 minutes long, so they don’t become the sermon instead of adding to the sermon (Adam Hamilton, Unleashing the Word).
  • Recently, I have put extra material from my sermon on my blog and then referenced my blog in the sermon. I print my blog address in my sermon notes in the bulletin. You can teach people more than you can fit in your sermon by pointing them to your blog.
  • It’s okay to give people homework occasionally (not every week). A sermon might require the congregation to do some reflecting, devotional work, action step, etc. when they get home. That’s a good thing! It keeps them thinking about the sermon after they leave the worship gathering.
  • This is a repeat from the first Sermon Delivery Tips entry. Eliminate repetitive words, phrases or ticks from your preaching. Using a catchphrase in every sermon, saying “um”, clearing your throat, etc. is very distracting to the congregation. Every time you do it, they are thinking about your repetitive habits instead of your sermon content. Be ruthless in eliminating these. Ask for feedback,and when people give you feedback, don’t defend yourself. Just say, “Thank you”. Their honesty helps you, so don’t punish them for it.
  • Vary your sermon structure from week to week. Do you always, or usually, start sermons the same way? Do you use a video clip every week? Do you use a prop every time? Are your sermons always structured the same way? I used to know a pastor who started every sermon the exact same way. He would give a 2-3 minutes intro then say, “Today, I would like to speak to you on the subject (sermon title)”. If you do not vary your structure and delivery, your habits become the focal point instead of your sermon, and what you think is your “style” becomes a running joke to other people.

Think of new creative ways to vary your delivery. I’ve heard it said that’s it’s a sin to bore people with the Gospel!

  • Have the congregation text something to someone during a sermon.
  • Show your Facebook page on the projection screen and invite people to friend you and share questions they have about God.
  • Invite a juggler to be a live illustration for you.
  • Include a live animal in your sermon (put plastic down, so the trustees don’t complain about animals pooping on the carpet. They thought coffee was disrespectful to “God’s house”!).
  • Put up a portable basketball hoop on the platform and have a volunteer shoot baskets as an illustration.
  • Play 3 minutes of a popular TV show (with the volume up) on the projection screen while you preach to talk about distractions in our lives.
  • Have a very good pianist or guitarist play a complicated song as an illustration of the power of discipline and practice.
  • Decorate the platform according to the theme of your sermon ( and Fellowship Church are the best at this).
  • Take a trip to somewhere; then use video footage from your trip as an illustration (Adam Hamilton,
  • Plant a fake heckler in the congregation (think Saturday Night Live), and interact with that person to illustrate turning the other cheek or conflict management. Mic the person, maybe a local actor, so the congregation knows its staged. It will still be hilarious if done with some intelligence

Make your sermon remarkable- worth your congregation remarking to their friends about (Seth Godin, The Purple Cow). Of course, everything you do should make sense, or it will be just another running joke. Be intelligent and profound.

Pastors, Preaching

Sermon Tips from Mike Cunningham

The following tips are from Mike Cunningham, Youth Pastor, New Hope Community Church, Chula Vista, CA:

Sermon Writing Tips

Find a place where you can think, dream and focus.  It could be your office, but I would recommend finding a place outside of it since you are already in the office a lot, handling other things and people can stop by which can be distracting.  I find going to a public place always stokes my creative juices because I have to focus more. Plus I learn a lot from just watching people.  Go to a coffee shop, Panera bread, McDonalds, wherever you can get going and, of course, a place with good iced tea!

Don’t overcook your sermon, meaning designate a certain amount of time each week to get all your prep done and once your done you are done.  Let the Holy Spirit bless what you have put together. (Thank you Craig Groeschel for that tip!  It’s always stuck with me!)

Study your audience.  Know who they are and where they are at in life. Get to know their family situations when you can.  If you don’t have time to do all this then make sure you find out what the audience is like.

Use multiple Bible translations.  I would choose one that you firmly believe is a solid literal translation, but don’t be afraid or bias to sprinkle in other translations as you study.  Helps text come to life more

Pray, Pray, Pray!  It sounds cliché, but it’s so true.  When I’ve prayed I can tell a distinct difference in the impact of the messages.

Get feedback from your congregation.  Find out what’s troubling them, what issues are they dealing with.

Lectio Devina!  Read through the text multiple times and with each time pull things that stick out to you.

Always be on the lookout for personal stories and applications throughout your prep process for that week and the future.  People always connect with personal stories.  God uses your story to impact others.

It’s always good to have a spouse or confidant who you can practice on and have them proofread your sermon.

Practice your sermon at least once.

Stay up to date with culture and the news because many people in your audience do, and it’s good to relate it all together and show how Christ-followers should respond.

Sermon Delivery Tips

Don’t try to be other people.  Be yourself.  You can take little things from good speakers, but in the end, be yourself.

Move around.  It helps keep people’s attention and keeps them interested.

Object lessons are very powerful!  Have a display of phone books, or phones, or other devices when you do a series on God’s Call in your Life and leave it on stage until you’re done!  Helps them remember.

Use a lot of media.  In today’s age, it can add so much power and impact to your message.  Don’t overuse it, but looks for multiple ways to interject media like photos, videos, interviews, games, etc.

Audience participation.  It helps break the ice and reminds people that you are one of them, just in the journey together with them.  Get them on stage, ask them questions, etc.

Voice inflection – know when and how to use your voice in a sermon to make a stronger impact.

Personal stories.  Make sure they are appropriate and don’t be afraid to get emotional.  Let them see that you are humble and human.

Always ask for feedback.  It helps you continue to grow in your ability.

Be animated.  Tell jokes. Move your hands, but don’t overdo it.  That’s why it’s good to practice on somebody beforehand to get a response.

Look at people. It can make a bigger impact than you know!

Don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself.  It’s not only funny, but once again it reminds them that you are not the focus, God is!

Try to tie in all the aspects of the service to your message.  It helps enhance the message.

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.