Coach Bob Knight has stated, “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to prepare to win.”
With a few modifications, I think you can adapt his quote to preaching. To preach effectively, you have to be willing to prepare to preach. I certainly can affirm that truth, having learned the hard way what happens when I try to merely “wing it.”
Most of my preparation has been in two areas. The primary one takes place in the study during the week. I was always taught that you have to discipline yourself to spend time immersing yourself in the text so that you know what it means and how to explain it to people. You have to study your audience in order to know how to apply the specific truths from the passage to their lives. My preparation includes understanding the text, thinking through my introduction, illustrations, applications, and conclusion. Since I include visuals in my preaching, my preparation also includes preparing my PowerPoint slides. Maybe I am too detailed or perhaps I just have a healthy fear of embarrassment, but I want to know where I am going and whether or not I arrive at my destination.
In addition to preparing the message, I was also taught that you have to prepare the messenger. St. Francis said, “The preacher must first grow hot within before speaking words which in themselves are cold.” Phillip Brooks put it like this, “Preaching is truth mediated through personality.” While the preacher is not the message, he is the vital medium through which the message is delivered. Thus, my preparation must also include character development, confession of sin, prayer, and my relationships with others.
Many people often ask, how much time do you spend preparing a message? They expect an answer of 15, 20, or 30 hours. Since you have to prepare not only the message, but also the messenger, the real answer is “a lifetime.”
I have recently added a third element to my weekly preparation–preparing the place. I had come across the idea of praying for the facility and the people who would be there on Sunday. About a month ago, I started going into the sanctuary on Friday afternoons to preview my PowerPoint slides. I discovered the colors are sometimes different when projected than they are on my computer screen. So I needed to double check that everything looked good.
After previewing and making the necessary changes to the slides, I started walking around the sanctuary to pray for the people who would be seated in the pews on Sunday morning. As I stand in the front of the auditorium, I pray specifically for the worship team and the musicians. As I walk through the balcony, I pray for the sound people and the technical equipment. As I have walk up and down the center aisle and around the room, I pray that God would bind the enemy, remove distractions, and open people’s hearts and minds to hear the truth. I pray that God would use each teacher and helper to connect with their students. I pray that God would use me and the message to meet people at their point of need. I pray that the message would bring hope to those who are discouraged, conviction to those who are in sin, and encouragement to those who are ready to give up. I pray that people would understand and believe that God can be trusted. As I pace through the aisles and around the sanctuary, I pray that God would bring revival to our church.
On the one hand, I don’t know that I can attribute my success and accomplishments to my efforts in preparation. On the other hand, I have received several comments from people over the past month saying that the sermons spoke directly to them. Initially, I attributed the comments to the sermon series on the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Joseph dealt with real issues and problems and people can relate to him. But I am beginning to wonder if the comments are the initial signs of God beginning to answer prayer and bring lifechange.
To preach effectively, you have to be willing to prepare to preach. Prepare the message. Prepare the messenger. Prepare the place. And pray, pray, pray!