I am still trying to forget my first sermon. The venue was the Home of Grace, a halfway house for ladies suffering from abuse. On Sunday afternoons, I accompanied a friend, who usually did the preaching. On this occasion, he asked me to handle the preaching responsibilities.
Throughout the week, I crafted my sermon—if one can call it that! I jotted down my favorite Bible verses, pulled together all the preacher jargon I knew, and wrote out my conversion story.
When the moment of truth came, I preached to the best of my ability. I thought I had 30 minutes worth of “stuff,” but finished my notes in 15. On the fly, I returned to the top of my notes and went through them once more to fill the time.
At the conclusion of the sermon, I gave an invitation and several ladies came forward for prayer. I left on cloud nine. On the ride home, my friend said to me, “It made you feel good when those ladies came forward didn’t it?” I shot back, “Incredible. It was incredible.” My friend smiled and said, “I know the feeling. Those same ladies come forward every week.”
In hindsight, that sermon was an absolute train wreck. Even now, I pray it was not recorded and that it does not someday surface in my life. My feeble attempt to preach was earnest, but the finished product was no doubt laughable.
Looking back, there are a few tips I wish I had been given as a beginning preacher. Let me share eight of them with you:
Seek your Pastor’s Affirmation & Counsel
Though ordination to ministry usually necessitates formal church-affirmation, you might be invited to preach without previous church affirmation or your pastor’s approval. In any case, when asked to preach your first sermon you should especially seek your pastor’s affirmation and counsel. It ought not be a foreboding conversation; rather, share with him the opportunity before you. If he encourages you to pursue it, then do just that. His confidence in you will bolster your confidence in yourself.
Find a Low-Pressure Venue
Preaching your first sermon will be stressful under most any circumstance. As a general rule, the bigger the stage the greater the pressure will be. There is no need for this, especially if you can avoid it. Most of my early sermons were preached in prison ministries, at halfway houses, and before Sunday school classes. Preaching in your home church in front of family and friends will be a joy, but it is best to have a few sermons under your belt first. Seek out low-pressure venues.
Choose Your Text Wisely
If you are a beginning preacher, do not select a knotty passage. Do not attempt to reconcile faith and works from James 2; harmonize God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility from Romans 9 and 10; or explain the hypostatic union of Christ from Philippians 2. Such messages are too ambitious for beginning preachers. Choose a more manageable passage, like Isaiah 6, John 3 or Matthew 6. In fact, one of the secrets of preaching is that many texts virtually preach themselves. Choose one that will do just that.
Exposit the Text
After you choose your text, determine to exposit it for God’s people. As a beginner preacher, you will be excused for unrefined speech, a lack of homiletical polish, awkward locutions, fidgety habits, and nervous ticks. But you ought not be excused for mishandling the passage. Simply —yet faithfully—explaining and applying the passage will cover a multitude of pulpit errors. It will also ensure God’s people hear God’s Word, even if his spokesperson is green behind the ears.
As you work to prepare your sermon, make sure you over prepare. However much you think you need to prepare for the sermon, double it. I have never finished a sermon feeling as though I spent too much time preparing it. Unfortunately, I have concluded a few sermons sensing the opposite. I definitely felt this the first time I preached. On that occasion, I was amazed at how quickly I went through my sermon notes. You will likely be amazed too. To be frank, I would rather preach undressed than unprepared. The first time you step into a pulpit, you will know exactly what I mean.
Get the “I” out of the Sermon
You will likely overestimate how much the congregation wants to hear about you. They want to hear from you, but not so much about you. Be careful with personal illustrations, opinions, and any other phrase that begins with “I.” Connecting with your audience is important and a little self-disclosure can aid that, but err by using the word “I” too little, not too much.
Lift High Jesus
A wise preacher once told me, “If you are ever unsure of what to preach, just preach Jesus.” Now, the truth of the matter is, every sermon should feature Christ, but especially your first sermons. As you preach, make sure Christ eclipses you. Let your heart be enraptured by his beauty, and you will likely preach a more impassioned, from-the-heart sermon. You can never go wrong by lifting high Jesus.
Rest in God’s Power
Lastly, as you preach, rest in God’s power. Trust in him. Have confidence in his Word. Be faithful to the text and be assured that God will work through you. The longer you preach, the more you’ll learn this lesson, but you might as well know it now—the effectiveness of the sermon rests in God’s power, not yours.
You never get a second chance to preach your first sermon. I still remember my first sermon, but I’m probably the only one—and that is a good thing. If God opens doors for you to preach, you will likely feel both exhilaration and fright. Walk through those doors cheerfully, yet wisely, and keep these eight tips in mind as you go.topicsExpository Preaching, Pastoral Ministry, Preaching