“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14)
Congratulations! You’ve been called to a high office. You’ve received a great honor. Lives will forever be changed because of you. Futures will be transformed. In fact, every time you open your mouth, eternity hangs in the balance.
Why? BECAUSE YOU’RE A PREACHER!
You may never have thought of yourself as a preacher, but if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you don’t really have much choice.
“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Corinthians 9:16
Being a preacher is one of the greatest honors (and responsibilities) you’ll ever receive. Whether you’re preaching in front of 500 people or just 5… whether it’s a sermon or a Sunday school lesson… whether it’s in front of your church or just in front of your children at home… YOU ARE CALLED TO PREACH IN SOME MANNER!
And yes, we preach first with our actions (I could see that one coming), but we don’t stop there. A wise man once said “the world today needs audio-visual Christians. They need to SEE our faith and they need to HEAR it as well.”
For me, preaching is one of the most important things I do. Why? Because preaching is an INCARNATIONAL act - a means by which “God takes flesh” in the hearts of the hearer. St. Ephrem the Syrian illustrates the incarnational nature of preaching by reminding us that “Jesus entered the womb of Mary through her ear.”
In the same manner, it is through our words that Christ enters the hearts of many today. Being a preacher means being a channel for a divine-human encounter.
Pretty cool huh?
So with that said, my goal today is to give you an all-access, behind-the-scenes look at what I do on a weekly basis to prepare my messages. I wouldn’t say that I follow this formula strictly with every message (it’s more of an art than a science), but this is my best attempt to document my system and put it in writing.
So here goes!
NOTE: You’ll notice that the one glaring omission from my system is prayer. That isn’t because I don’t think prayer is important – God forbid! But you already know that. You don’t need me to tell you that nothing can replace the role of prayer in preparation and that if you’re not praying about a message, then you’re probably doing it more for your sake/glory than for God’s. You already know that so I don’t need to say it – even though I just did :)
My goal as I prepare my messages is to "BUILD A SANDWICH."
Step 1, The Meat: MAIN IDEA
Start by figuring out the theme of your message and then build everything else around it. This should be one sentence that answers the question “if I buy everything you're selling, how will my life be any different?” If you aren’t crystal clear on your main idea, don’t be surprised if your audience isn’t either.
Step 2, Choose Your Veggies: PRINCIPLES, NOT POINTS
In a sandwich, you support the meat by adding pickles, onions, tomatoes, etc. In the same way, you need to identify 2-4 “principles” to support your main idea. I said PRINCIPLES, not POINTS. Points are predictable and boring. Principles are timeless truths – universally applicable ideas that mean something to your audience.
Step 3, Spread the Veggies: EXPAND ON EACH PRINCIPLE
For each of the principles, do the following:
- STATE the principle
- EXPLAIN the principle
- APPLY the principle
- ILLUSTRATE the principle
Don’t assume that your audience knows how to apply your principle; it’s your job as the preacher to help them translate it into action steps. And be sure to use stories – if you do this right, those will also be the most memorable parts of your message and will help cement the principles in people’s minds.
Step 4, Slap on the Bread: INTRO AND CONCLUSION
In your conclusion, do NOT state any new information. The only purpose of the conclusion is to tie everything together and make one final appeal to your listeners – like a closing argument in court.
For the intro, your goal is to grab the attention of your audience. Start with their needs and not your notes. Give them a reason to care about what you’re about to say.