Today a sermon has to bite. If it doesn’t, the people sleep.
It used to be that parishioners would be courteous enough to sit up straight, cock their heads in the pulpit’s direction and start to listen from word one.
Today things have changed. From the first word in the message, it is a challenge to the pastor to keep the people’s attention. Of course, he wants to do more than that. He wants to challenge them, convict them, set them on fire!
That takes some doing.
How can we do it better?
1. Get that sermon inside you so that you yourself are bitten. Feel the bite. Let it make you squirm. Get hold of it enough to really get turned on to what you are trying to get across.
The way to do this practically is to start that sermon early in the week — no later than Tuesday afternoon. It will begin to grab you, then you will wrestle with it, finally you will fall in love with its bite.
By Thursday you will be so smitten with the message that you will not be able to wait until Sunday morning. Now when that really happens within you, you will have been caught up one more time with the romance of your calling.
2. Mull the sermon over in your head throughout the week. When you can get that far into the heart of the message, then the sermon will have become a part of your heart.
So it will be that a Time magazine piece will leap up at you. In no time you will have slid that article — or portion of it — into the middle of Sunday’s message.
A story staring at you from the 11:00 news will slip right into place near the end of that sermon-to-be. You will jot down its vitals on a scratch piece of paper, then slip it into the main notes before preaching them.
3. Let the sermon trip along. That is, don’t be too tidy with it at first. A rough edge here and there will only add to the final creative delivery.
However, along with the untidiness at the start will be a healthy frustration with its lack of form. That very irritation will be the energy to mold the message smoothly, carving it into a piece for showing come Lord’s Day morning.
The rhythm of give-and-take, untidy to tidy, rough to smooth, is one of the delights of preaching preparations. There is no panic in all this for the work will have begun early enough in the week to allow for time in the ebb and flow.
4. Go with the variety of preparations. Sometimes you will use the red marker to slice up Bible pages before your very eyes. Margins will fill in with jottings. Words will be circled. Phrases will be underlined in green to contrast with the red.
In another week, you will tear and tape. That is, you will tear out a saying from this source and then tear out an illustration from another. A quip here and a poem there. Before you know it, you will have gone back to first grade with scissors and tape.
In front of you will be two or three white pages with slips of paper attached to them — all in the order of your presentation. Your eyes will adjust to the array. You will become increasingly familiar with the scheme the more you marry yourself to the pages.
5. But the real bite comes when all alone. You are there in the sanctuary (or it may be a vacant parking lot or back woods or cellar room). Before you is your sermon — open Bible with marginal markings or several sheets of paper or a few scraps with scrawled notes, scratched enough for you to know what you are doing.
The watch is on your wrist or on the table top in front of you. Perhaps, if standing alone in your empty sanctuary, the clock on the back wall stares back at you as on Sundays. You take note of the time. You know how much you do not like sitting through wind-bag sermons. You are determined that you will never fall into that trap yourself.
Go! You start with the first word of that untidy message. You keep slipping and sliding. Point one. Point two. Truth here. Story there. Scripture accented for emphasis. Humor creatively molded in — not too much, just enough.
Another go at it. No time for a break. Try it again, maybe a third time with a couple minutes in between each preaching. You’ve got over that initial irritation with the sermon’s awkwardness. You are now starting to like your own work. “Thank you, God,” you pray, righting the matter from self to Him.
6. Time for other things. Phone calls, visitation, bulletin line-up, this and that.
Another day you will come back to the bite. You will want to get to it. You know that the more you get with it, the more you will be excited about Sunday.

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