No matter what profession someone is in, having great tools to help you do your job well is vital!
Whether it’s a mechanic who needs to know what equipment to put in his or her shop, or a real estate agent who needs to learn best practices when it comes to helping a family find a house, everybody needs to know what to do to improve.
In this article, we’re going to talk about 7 Must-Have Preaching Tools & Techniques. These obviously aren’t the ONLY preaching tools and techniques (not by a long shot!). But they will hopefully help you get better in your sermon prep and delivery process!
One: A SERMON PLANNING TEAM
A sermon planning team is a group of people that will keep you from preparing your sermon or sermon series in a silo, in a vacuum, or on an island.
This team can be anywhere from two to six people…
- People that you trust.
- People who care about you.
- People who have insight into the mission and vision of your church.
- People who understand the culture of your audience.
They don’t have to be communicators or staff members. They just need to be humble people who want to see you succeed, and are committed to helping you present truth to your congregation in a way that impacts their lives.
Putting together a team like this takes time. Some people are too busy. Some people have to be convinced to be on this team because they don’t feel adequate or qualified.
Start by inviting someone to one meeting with the goal of helping you plan one sermon or roughly map out one series. This will serve as a good test to see if this person likes the process and is a good fit for you. The sermon planning team can be a volunteer role at your church, just like being a small group leader or children’s ministry teacher.
But as you build this team, give them the power and freedom to truly contribute to the preaching that comes from your church’s pulpit. Before long, you’ll wonder how you ever did this without them!
TWO: A SERMON PLANNING RETREAT
Have a sermon calendar planning retreat with your sermon planning team.
When I say retreat, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an off-site retreat. Although, if you have the time, budget, and location for an off-site retreat, that’s ideal. If not, you can schedule it one night a week for a month.
For example, you may say…
Every Thursday evening in the month of October or November, we’re going to meet in a private room at the church from 6-8 pm. The goal is to create our sermon calendar for the next year.
Start by getting a bunch of ideas on a whiteboard or a bulletin board. Ask the question, “What does this audience need to hear next year?” Write them down.
Even if you preach verse-by-verse, you still have to figure out what you’re going to say about each verse or passage, and it’s great to get input from your sermon planning team.
Then, look at the calendar. Be aware of things that are going on in your church calendar, in the lives of your congregation, and in culture (there have been a few times when I left these meetings and totally forgot about major holidays!).
Finally, start filling in the Sundays on next year’s calendar with series, themes, topics, or core ideas.
THREE: A SERMON CALENDAR
The output of your sermon planning retreat should be a sermon calendar.
I cannot overstate how big of a deal this is!
Keep in mind that your sermon calendar can be adjusted…
- If you feel God leading you to add, subtract, or edit.
- If there’s a local or national tragedy.
- If there’s a shift or major change in your church staff.
- Any other unforeseen change or adjustment.
A sermon calendar gives you so much freedom and confidence when it comes to mapping out and planning things in advance. It’s so great for your staff because you can communicate with them about where you’re going over the next few weeks (even months!) With increased planning comes increased communication, creativity, and efficiency. And imagine how much better you’d feel sitting down to write your sermon outline with an idea already on the table!
Also, with the advanced planning that your sermon calendar provides, you can get more input from other people about your sermon, services, and how to promote upcoming series.
FOUR: A SYSTEM FOR PREPARING YOUR HEART
When it comes to preaching, a lot of us feel this…
- The urgency of preparation on the front end.
- The insecurity of “How did it go?” on the back end.
Instead of feeling victimized by these two things, a great tool to have in your arsenal is a system for preparing your heart.
All of us pray when we’re getting ready to preach. I don’t even need to mention that as a “tool” or “technique.” Like studying the passage you’re going to preach on, prayer is a necessity!
But preparing your heart is about making your preaching about more than your sermon.
Here are some things I do…
1. Attempt to get into the heart and mind of someone in my audience. I try to really think and care about their heart, family, struggles, hopes, insecurities, etc. So instead of preaching from a standpoint of me and how my sermon will perform, I think about them and what God could do in their lives through this message.
For instance, if I’m talking about marriage, I try to get a specific married couple in my mind. I make change in their marriage greater than how I preach.
2. Connect with a Bible character. For me, I almost always think about Peter. If God could use him for giant impact based on all that we know about Peter, he might be able to use me. Peter was impulsive, insecure, and afraid. But when he tapped in to the Spirit of God, Peter set the early church in motion!
3. Focus on one verse. I like to spend some time on my knees surrendering my preparation, talent, and intentions to God. Then I get a verse front and center in my heart and mind.
With my focus on people, an imperfect person used by God, and a front-and-center verse, I’m in a better place to preach!
FIVE: A WAY TO GET CONSISTENT FEEDBACK
This is another great place to get your sermon planning team involved.
- When it comes to feedback, don’t just look for people who love everything you say.
- But also, don’t look for people who are super-critical and nitpick your smallest points and habits.
Look for people who are humble, love you, want you to win, and want to see people in your congregation truly encounter Jesus (again, it’s the same things you’re looking for in a sermon planning team).
You don’t have to overwhelm them each time you speak. Just get in the habit of texting, emailing, or asking them these two questions…
1. What was the most effective, impactful thing I did in my last sermon?
2. What’s an area that didn’t connect or needs some work?
Give people permission to speak not only into your content, but also into your delivery, energy, emotion, and art. I once had a friend tell me that I didn’t smile enough when I spoke. That was great feedback!
Over time, you’ll notice some common themes with this feedback. Those themes will help you so much as a communicator that you’ll know what weaknesses you need to be improve, and what strengths you need to be accelerate!
SIX: A LIST OF OFF-WEEK COMMUNICATORS
When it comes to being a great communicator, you cannot preach every single Sunday.
You simply can’t.
Some of you preach on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Sunday nights. All you’re doing is preparing and preaching. If you love that, it’s fine. But you still need some weeks off!
- You need to give your heart some rest.
- You need to make sure you don’t burn out.
- You need to give other people an opportunity to share their unique story, share their unique message, and fan the flame of the gift within them.
People in your audience are unique, so they’re going to respond to unique voices. Not just one voice. Not just your voice. You want to expose them to different people who can speak out of their own experiences and share what God has done in their lives. This will spill out into the hearts of people in your congregation.
Have a list of people. This includes people who are ready to go—people you can trust with big Sundays—as well as people you want to take a risk on.
When you have a list of off-week communicators, you can look at your sermon calendar and identify your vacation days, sabbatical days, planning days, and seasons when you have a lot going on.
Whether you’re moving a kid off to college or just needing to create some breathing space, you want to schedule off-week communicators to fill your gaps in advance.
Remember: they need a lot more notice, communication, and prep time than you do! They don’t speak every week like you. They’ll have way more nerves than you. When you give them vital information in advance, you’re showing them that you respect their time and that you want them to succeed.
But all of this will be much easier if you have a list of off-week communicators in front of you!
SEVEN: A PLACE TO COLLECT IDEAS, STORIES, ILLUSTRATIONS, ETC.
If you speak week after week, you’re probably always observing, looking, reading, and listening. For what? Ideas!
That’s great, but you need a place for all of those ideas! You and I can hope to remember those ideas later. But let’s be honest: trying to remember an idea that we don’t write down is about as effective as trying to remember an appointment that we don’t put in our calendars!
Whether it’s the Notes app on your phone, Evernote, or a good old Word folder on your computer, you need a central place where you can write down anything that could potentially help a future sermon. Whether you see or hear about something in the news, encounter a funny situation with your kids, or read something that moves you emotionally, it’s great to have a place where you can immediately go and capture that idea in some type of document that can be saved!
Put a subject header in front of each of these ideas. If the story or illustration could fit under multiple subjects, put all of them in the header. For example…
Header: (Family, Parenting, Gratitude, Identity, Self-Awareness).
Story: Today, while eating dinner at a restaurant, we all went around and told my 4-year-old daughter one thing we love about her. This included her sense of humor, how loving and snuggly she is, etc. Then we asked her to tell us the #1 thing she loves about herself. She quickly replied, “My beautiful singing voice.” I obviously love my daughter, but I’m objective enough to admit: the girl can’t hit a note to save her life!
Writing stuff like this down is so helpful, because it means that you have your own database to draw from down the road (it’s better than Google searching ideas!).
Inspiration happens in the moment. This is when great songwriters write songs, but this is when you and I write down great ideas for future sermons!