Monday, September 29, 2008

One Sermon: A Study in Differences

imageYesterday's sermon was absolutely fascinating.  At least to me. Not because of the content (as far as that goes it was fairly average). 

But two things happened that I believe will be important in the future.  Two events came together this week:

First, I hadn't preached for three weeks. I miss one week and I can tell it some...but usually just the break is a pleasant relief.

After two weeks off however, things begin to atrophy.  We had a missionary speaker and a youth Sunday back to back.  And so it had been a while. When you get into the routine of preaching week after week after week, two weeks off can really shake up the habits.

The second thing that happened, however, was that I am reading Fred Lybrand's book "Preaching On Your Feet."  He really makes a case for extemporaneous preaching (or "preaching on your feet" as he calls it).  I thought it would be important for me to try some of his practices.  I agree with his point that if I spent the time that I normally take in writing up a manuscript in actually continuing to work on the sermon content, the overall sermon will be better.  And so I didn't really write a manuscript this week. (It drove Ron, my Powerpoint guy, crazy!)  I DID have a fairly "thick outline" as Lybrand calls it. I decided that I would "try" to stay away from it as much as possible.

(For what it's worth...I was preaching from Acts 16:6-10 and the Macedonian call when Paul got to Troas on his second missionary journey). 

The Leading of God

Acts 16:6-10

THEME: God is active leading and directing you in your life, but you must listen and obey.

1. Believe that God leads and directs

  • Paul was responsive to God's direction even as God kept shutting doors
  • Scriptures are filled with passages referring to God’s leading and directing of our lives
  • Sometimes God’s leading & directing is immediately visible.
  • Sometimes it is only seen in retrospect.

2. Be willing to surrender to God’s leading 

  • It was only because of Paul's obedience in following God's shut-door leading that he got to Troas where he was in the best place for God to reveal the Macedonian vision to him
  • All the belief is for naught unless we are willing to follow God’s lead

3. Begin moving in God’s general direction for your life; unless God tells you to sit still

  • None of Paul's initiative was seemingly at God's specific direction; it was only at the general direction of the life-long vision that God had given to him. 
  • He moved until God either shut a door or showed him a more specific vision

The audio (I pray of second service) is here.

The one thing I DIDN'T DO, however, was practice the sermon out loud. (Well...I guess I really did, but it was called First Service!)  I took the notes up...and as I was preaching, I couldn't get away from them and kept thinking..."this stinks"..."this is awful!"  It was choppy, it didn't flow, there were tangents that didn't make any sense!  Just because it was on the paper, I felt like I had to include it--it had not been excluded as a part of the manuscripting process.  It felt like I was preaching for the very first time instead of having 30 years of experience!!  I had fewer notes than I normally did, but the sermon was much longer than I normally preach.  Yuck. 

There was a shorter interim time between services (because I preached so long!) and "Half-time" (as we call it)  is always a key time for making connections with people and meeting new folks.  So, after doing the welcome for second service I went into the Sonrise Cafe we have at church, and while Will led the music time, grabbed a cup of coffee and a pastry and began to slice and dice.  I moved stuff around on the outline, I dropped LOTS of the sermon, including half of the cross-references I had used in first service. 

Second service was a totally different sermon!  It flowed.  I was able to just put the notes on the lectern and forget them.  It was fun!  And I feel like I really communicated with passion and focus. 

What was the difference? I think there were two:

1. I had "practiced" the sermon out-loud and saw what worked and what didn't. Unfortunately the "practice" was "live".  It should have been BEFORE first service.

2. Second service I was much more willing to just leave the notes on the lectern and go "naked." (sans notes, not sans clothing).  And it worked much better.

Lybrand stresses that while this method of delivery cannot be taught, it can be learned. (See previous post). And I think that is what was happening this morning.  I learned a couple of piece that were essential to improving my preaching.  So...even in first service...all was not lost!!  (I hope!!)

(Thanks for letting me process and debrief this in front of your eyes!)

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