I bet you remember the thrill you felt when you were in seminary and first got to preach. Plunging into the Scriptures, crafting a message you were passionate about, and delivering your sermon to a real, live congregation satisfied every hope you had when you answered the call.
Once settled in a congregation, preaching regularly probably started with joy.
Though you had much to learn, the privilege of this sacred responsibility coupled with a passion for Scripture and prayer likely carried you through.But as other ministry responsibilities piled up, sermon prep had to flex and move—until it barely fit into the cracks of your weekly schedule.
Prayer may have been squeezed out by the tyranny of the urgent. Soon, Scripture became a means to an end rather than a source of life.Preaching lost its priority. Yet the demand to preach every week —plus holidays, funerals, weddings, Holy Week— would not relent.
It’s no surprise preaching becomes one more task on the to-do list—a merciless treadmill of duty.
As a result, rather than feeding you, sermon prep drains you.
In this state of overwhelm and burnout, preaching can become frantic or mechanical.
We no longer preach like the enthusiastic seminarian who first entered the pulpit. We offer shallow or half-hearted sermons full of second-hand ideas and lukewarm conviction.
In short, our sermons lose authenticity.
Why Authenticity Matters
Authenticity gets to the heart of preaching. We preaching authentically when we believe what we say.
If we don’t believe what we preach, we become actors faking our way through sermons. This facade creates dissonance in our souls and produces disciples of faux theology.
Our listeners deserve to trust we believe what we preach. And we deserve to experience what we preach.
To ensure authentic preaching, our sermon prep must move beyond a to-do to communion with God.
Here are three essentials to ensure it does.
1. Pray with God and Scripture for your own soul’s sake.
It’s a sad truth that many preachers do not spend time in prayer apart from worship.
We lead worship prayerfully, but in that case, we’re always multi-tasking: paying attention to the service, the people, and whether the acolyte remembered to light the candles!
Being alone with God in prayer and Scripture is different—and necessary.
We need daily sabbath time when we rest in and rely solely on God’s presence.
Because we are leaders, it’s all the more important that we face God vulnerable and alone—without an agenda, without needing to do anything, without expecting an outcome.
Spending time with God and scripture for your own sake, you will remember how true and real God is.
As a result, you’ll preach what you know.
2. Let the Sermon Text Affect You
I advocate for a very slow reading of the sermon text.
Paying attention to every single word offers gold mines of sermon messages.
In addition to discovering sermon messages from slow reading, this pace also creates time for the texts to affect us—to move us, change us, convict us, invite us, renew us.
We need to experience that the Good News is real, and Jesus Christ still lives. We need to renew our belief that God’s kingdom can be built.
Otherwise, what are we doing in the pulpit?
To do so, however, we have to come to the text vulnerable and open.
We have to be converted by God, through the text, to love God and our neighbor more than we did before our sermon preparation.
We have to know our sermon message is true and real— or we are espousing fiction.
As you prepare your sermons then, keep a journal handy to notice the ways God is working in you.
Draw pictures, write a poem, get on your knees when you are convicted of your sin, and shed holy tears in thanksgiving and awe when you are forgiven by God’s grace.
We preach authentically—with joy and passion—when we preach what we’ve experienced and believed ourselves.
3. Trust God enough to show up as yourself.
There is a priest I know who took on an entirely different persona when he preached.
Everything shifted: body language, tone of voice, odd word choices…it was as if he donned his version of a preachers’ superhero costume before he came to church.
It was distracting.
When he preached, he wasn’t at all the same person I knew, so I struggled to take his messages seriously.
And why did he change?
Was the gospel not relevant to his everyday self? Was his natural character not “holy” enough for preaching? Did he feel he needed to impress us?
And if that was the case, what did it mean for those of us simply struggling to be kind to our spouse that morning?
Model enoughness. Model worthiness by God’s grace.
Let your voice, word choices, and body language be consistent in and out of the pulpit so others have permission to be themselves, too.
Preaching can feed you for the lifetime of your ministry.
And indeed, it should.
Being enthralled by God is what keeps us excited and enthusiastic to preach—and is what inspires others to follow, too.
We preach authentically when we believe what we say. We believe what we say when we perpetually learn more about and experience God’s goodness.
And we can approach our sermon prep time in a way that facilitates this encounter.
May you be good news to preach good news as you encounter God afresh each week.
This is the second in a series of blog posts that explores the definition of an effective sermon, created and applied by Backstory Preaching.
“An effective sermon offers a clear message of Good News, authentic to the preacher, relevant to the listeners, holding their attention, and inviting transformation.”
Next time: What makes a sermon “relevant to the listener”? Hint: it’s not a reference to the latest pop culture icon.
Backstory Preaching is the all-online sermon prep and continuing education center for preachers, lay and ordained, in the Anglican and Mainline Protestant traditions. The Rev’d Dr. Lisa Cressman, an Episcopal priest, is its Founding Steward.
Read more from Lisa Cressman
Photo from StockSnap.