Should I Practice My Sermon Delivery?
By Barry L. Davis
When I first began preaching I was extremely nervous. I had no experience in public speaking and was terrified to stand in front of a crowd. My first sermon took place while I was a freshman in Bible College. A fellow student had a weekend ministry at a rural church and asked me to fill in for him one Sunday. Once I had all my notes together I had my wife sit on the bed in our room at the back of our mobile home, stacked up some books on top of a dresser to use as a makeshift pulpit, and asked her to sit and listen to me while I practiced my sermon. She said it was good, but I knew she was just being nice.
Soon afterward I was able to acquire my own weekend ministry and even lived in the parsonage next to the church. Every Saturday I would take my notes over to the church, stand behind the pulpit, and practice my sermon with the empty pews in front of me. As I preached I would make notations in my manuscript whenever I felt a change was needed. By the time Sunday came around I stood there with pages of typewritten notes with handwritten scrawls in the margins, words crossed out, and sometimes even reminders to pause – all of this was the result of my practice, and it worked well for me.
While these days I do not practice from the pulpit, or from a stack of books in the bedroom, I still go over my notes in my office, and oftentimes I will use a stand or something else at hand that will be close in height to the pulpit I’ll use on Sunday. I generally go over my notes on Saturday evening and again early Sunday morning. And just like the old days, I keep my pen handy and make changes as I go.
So, should you practice your sermon before you preach? I believe that you should. Let me share some reasons why:
- Your word choices will be clarified. – Some of the words that come from your mind through your keyboard do not translate well when you say them out loud. Hearing your sermon will help you know for sure whether you’ve made the right choices.
- Your timing will improve. – The cadence of your sermon is more important than many people realize. Practicing your sermon will help you to build a rhythm that will help your audience to track with you and what you are trying to say.
- You will not need to rely on your notes as much. – Your practice time will make you more familiar with your message, which means you will not need to look at your notes nearly as often.
- You will learn what to emphasize. – As you speak the words out loud, the concepts and truths that need the most emphasis will become clear to you. Many times they are different than what you thought they should be when you were writing down your notes.
- You will know what to cut. – There will be words, phrases, and entire sections of your message that you will find just don’t work. Often illustrations that seemed perfect on the written page just don’t flow with the message when spoken out loud.
- Your confidence will grow. – When the words start flowing and changes are made, you will become more and more assured of the message God is giving you to deliver. You have prayed, studied, initially planned your message, and now have refined it to the point that you know it will have a powerful impact on your hearers.
- You will gain a brand new perspective. – I’m going to add a new wrinkle here: You need to occasionally record your sermon (preferably on video) while you practice and also when you deliver it to the church. This will help you to hear and see the same thing as your audience. You will hear and see some things that you don’t like – but that is a good thing – because it will help you to know specifically what types of things you need to change.
I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions below!
Barry L. Davis spent two decades as a Senior Pastor and started the ministry of The Pastor’s Helper in 1997. The Pastor’s Helper strives to provide tools and resources to help pastors succeed in their ministry calling. His latest book is God-Driven Leadership: A Call to Seeing, Believing, and Living in Accordance with Scriptural Principles.