It was thirty minutes before I was about to speak at the college ministry I ran in Richmond, Virginia. This was before any formal training at seminary and this college ministry was really my first church gig. Before this job at a church, I had worked for Young Life from the age of 18 to about 25. Shout-out to Young Life, some of the best leadership training came from that organization. I’m grateful for Young Life in my life and the lessons of leadership, punctuality, and responsibility. However, none of those things could prepare me for being thirty minutes away from taking the stage to speak with nothing to communicate on. I was freaking out, I am not the type of communicator that can just get up all haphazardly and pull out a life-changing sermon. I had racked my brain all day long, even started several sermons and gave up on them part of the way through because it just didn’t feel right. I remember thinking to myself before getting on stage, “there has to be a better way.” This is when I decided to implement some speaking strategy in my life.
Friends, communicators, I want to give you a few ideas so that this doesn’t happen to you. I must confess, I did a disservice to my calling as a pastor that night. I didn’t take seriously the task of communicating the gospel and I relied too heavily on my skills of charisma to get me by.
So, here are a few things I did to maximize my reach and preparation:
Maybe you’re like me and you have a hard time sitting down and making a plan. Fine, even though we’re not good at it, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do it. Good leaders see their weakness and surround themselves by people that are strong in that area. Get a few creative people together at the beginning of the year and come up with a year’s schedule. This doesn’t mean you have to have all the details organized and laid out, in fact—it’s probably better if you leave room in the margins for slight modifications as needed. However, it is important to have a rough skeleton to go by. As a leader, you should know, at least the series topics and maybe a few individual topics that can go within the series. Having a collective of creative people will help you take the burden of creativity off your shoulders and create space for people that are listening to you weekly to have their voice heard in the topics covered. I love to get the ideas from a group of people; we all have unique perspectives and life experiences that we bring to the table. When a series and sermon is crafted out of the collective, you’re maximizing your reach as a communicator.
2. Let your ideas stew.
One of the critical mistakes I made that night, aside from being ill prepared, is that I tried to write my sermon the day of the gathering. I can’t tell you why I thought I was capable of writing a sermon the day of, but it was an injustice to my calling. A few days or hours of preparation are not enough to fully formulate what God is calling you and I to communicate. What I love to do is funnel in as much information on the topic a few weeks prior to speaking (you might call this brainstorming). I gather as many books, articles, sermons and as much music that I can find on the topic and I ingest it. In order to do this well, you have to have sermons prepared two weeks in advance. The first week of preparation is gathering and jotting ideas and the second week is allotted to writing and exegetical work with scripture. I use an app like Evernote and Google Keep on my phone to store ideas as I come across them over the weeks of planning (app store and play store will have both). I then sit down with my notes and start manuscripting.
3. Write with an end.
One of the most helpful things I learned in my communication is that it’s important to know where you’re going. The problem with me preparing a sermon the day of is that I had no idea where I wanted to take my listeners. I was just trying to write something compelling without knowing what I wanted someone to be compelled towards. To solve this, I started writing my bottom line, or the idea I wanted the listener to leave with, at the top of my manuscript. This caused me to have a direction in my writing. I knew that every single point in my sermon had to line up with my bottom line. This gave my sermon preparation and writing more purpose and a solid direction.
Whatever you decide to do, come up with your own technique. It doesn’t have to be mine; come up with your own style and do what is comfortable. These are just things I have found to be helpful so you don’t have a “freak-out-moment” thirty minutes before you take a stage. I’d be curious to hear what other communicators do to prepare. What do you find useful? I’ll perhaps include them in my next blog post.