Ideally a preacher will have had time to formally study preaching/homiletics in a Bible college or seminary before presenting their first sermon. That should include practice with feedback from the teacher and/or class. Mentoring by an experienced pastor is also very helpful.
Having said that, I know that the ideal is not always the reality. Sometimes a layperson is asked to preach a sermon either for a special service or because the pastor is not able to be there.
Once the panic has begun to ease away, what should you do? I would like to share some points that may help you get through this frightening but exciting opportunity.
- Pick a Bible passage. Do not start with a topic, start with a passage. Topical preaching can be good but it takes experience in order to not abuse the Bible.
- Read the Bible passage in context. Look at the passage before and after it. How does the passage fit within the rest of the biblical book? How does it fit within the Bible?
- Start with a sermon outline. Not every preacher does this but it is very helpful to start out. Look for a logical progression. Some preachers look for three points but it does not have to be.
- Let the Bible speak for itself. A sermon is not the opportunity for you to share your opinions, it is a time for you to connect the congregation with the Bible.
- A good illustration is always helpful. Do not start with a great illustration and then build a sermon around it. If the illustration does not support the passage, do not use it no matter how good it is. But if you can find an illustration that will help explain the passage, definitely use it.
- Be careful with the use of humour. Everyone enjoys a good laugh and humour can be used effectively in a sermon. But you do not want people to remember your joke and forget what the passage said.
- Make the application. A sermon is not just a Bible study. You need to bridge the gap between the Bible and the audience. People should be able to ask the question, “So what?” and have a ready answer.
- Keep it simple. You do not have to trace down every interpretive issue in the passage. Have a purpose for the sermon and stick to it.
- Respect the attention span of the audience. If the congregation is used to half hour sermons, do not stretch it to an hour. Stay within the normal time limit or go slightly less.
- Have notes with you. Many pastors preach without notes but if you are just starting, you should have something with you. It does not have to be a full manuscript but you should at least have an outline.
- Pray. Pray. Pray. Preaching is not giving a speech. Preaching is presenting the Word of God to a people who need to hear it. Pray in your preparation, as you go to the pulpit, as you are preaching and as you are stepping away from the pulpit.