Preaching demands creative study, but creative study week after week is draining, if not impossible. Studies in creativity clearly indicate that the best creativity is a collective effort.
Preachers who excel in creativity often involve several people in the preparation of their sermon. That two minds are better than one is hardly novel. Many preachers get feedback from their congregations — some even ask for it! Many preacher’s give thanks for a loving spouse or a close confidant or two who can provide honest evaluation. They’re the Monday quarterbacks of the weekend’s game.
While these evaluators play a valuable role over the long haul of preaching, they cannot edit the sermon tape. It’s too late to hear “I didn’t get it… If only you had an example … But does life really work like that?” Too many times, also, I’ve learned on Tuesday how a relatively minor point in Sunday’s sermon struck someone the wrong way. I wish someone had warned me. Any such influence on the sermon must come before the weekend ministry.
Recognizing the value of creative input as well as feedback, the following procedure suggests a plan for maximizing resources for sermon preparation. In addition to meeting the objective of better preaching, this pattern also develops pastor-parish relationships and invaluable interaction with the audience of the one who is to “speak for God.” Instead of talking to people about the Bible, you’ll find yourself talking with people about themselves, from the Bible.
The Huddle: Several days before the sermon is to be preached (hopefully no later than Wednesday for a weekend ministry) gather a “huddle.” The huddle should be a representative sample of your audience. Involve people of diverse occupations and interests, both men and women, people with a “nose for ministry” and people on the fringe. The group should number five to eight people. For accountability and consistent communication, it may be helpful to involve one or two church leaders or staff members.
Explain to the huddle what you think is the basic truth or thesis of the passage for the sermon. This assumes that most of your exegetical study is completed. If you’re preaching topically, set forth the thesis of the topic and why you want to address this topic. If you want to give a little feel for what direction the sermon will take, do so; but it may be more profitable to start “closer to scratch.” Ask the group questions such as:
– Where does this truth “touch” you?
– Is this relevant to you or was there a time that such a truth was relevant?
– Do you believe this truth or does it need some proof? What would help you accept it?
– Do you understand this truth or does it need explanation? What would help you understand it?
– Do you know how to respond to or apply this truth? Does it need to be visualized?
– Does this passage make sense to you? What needs explaining? What is self-evident?
– If you understand this truth cognitively, how does it make you feel? Do you feel it? What would help you feel it?
As you listen to group members’ responses, listen for “their heart.” They have not studied intensely for this sermon. This hits them “cold” just like it will hit an audience when it is preached. So listen carefully to their response. Through discussion, you should get a sense for whether the sermon’s thesis is clear, too abstract, or not very believable in light of someone’s experience. You should sense what in the passage(s) needs explanation and what is already obvious.
Also, group members may raise balancing questions that the sermon may need to address at least briefly. For example, a group member may ask, “Well, if God’s love is unconditional, how do His justice and even His wrath play into His love?” What you hear in this person’s question is an impression of “yes, but ….”
The huddle also may produce specific illustrations for the sermon. Listen for visualizations of the truth on the street. Often, you’ll leave the huddle with more concrete, personal illustrations than you can possibly use in one sermon. Get permission to use an illustration, and tell the audience you got permission (“David Custer allowed me to tell this funny story about what happened to him at work a few weeks ago.”). One caveat: Don’t use too many illustrations from the huddle or huddle members will become hesitant to share.
After the huddle, write an objective for the sermon, stated in terms of audience response (beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors). For example, “Believers who listen to this sermon should value their intimate communication with God over any other daily event.” Perhaps you’ll write some sub-objectives, but be careful not to aim too high and thereby include too much for one sermon.
The Film Room: No later than Tuesday, gather a group of critics to “watch the film.” I know some pastors who actually force these volunteers to listen to the sermon again via cassette tape. If the group meets by Tuesday, memory should suffice. This feedback group should involve five to eight people. No more than two of them should be members of the huddle. You don’t want too many of the feedback group to have heard the suggestions in the huddle, however, or they’ll be geared to listening for those suggestions only, as you preach. Ask for general feedback:
– What was the point of the sermon?
– Was the sermon clear?
– What from this sermon do you remember?
– Was there anything in the sermon that was foggy?
– What did the sermon lack?
– How did you feel when you left the church?
Then allow time for other input or general impressions.
Game Plan: Compare the input received in the huddle to the feedback received in the film room. Did the sermon accomplish its objective? What could have strengthened this sermon? What would you omit or include if you preached this again? As you meet in the huddle and the film room throughout the season, you may discover some general insights that will make you a better preacher in the future. From these insights, map out two or three observable goals for your future preaching, such as:
In the next six months, I intend to:
1. Preach sermons no longer than 28 minutes.
2. Preach at least two sermons without using any notes.
3. Include one illustration that exalts women in three out of five sermons.
4. Explain less and apply more. (Explain the truth for 10 minutes and apply it for 15 minutes).
5. Preach at least three sermons that do not include a single sports illustration.
6. Demonstrate better where the point of the sermon comes from in Scripture so that people see the relevance and authority of God’s Word.
Keep a journal or at least notes of progress so that you can give your sincere thanks to God and to the people that have helped you.

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