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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

13 comments

  • Dr Raymond Clayton

    A great read and so True.

    • Dr. Joanne Ward

      I definitely practice (read over and over again) mines even after 15 years. Every point you made is true and that is why I continue to do so.

  • After 23 years, I still occasionally do this. It helps in all of the ways you’ve described and more.

  • Todd Moore

    As a. New minister I do practice and all my messages are taped and I watch them and man I’m. My own worst critic ! I hope I’m getting better! But practice does help me tremendously… Great article thank you Barry for all you do for gods ministry !

  • SB

    Good read. I usually do an out loud read Thursday mornings for many of the 7 reasons you listed and again on Saturday at home. Lots of ink and revisions every time.

    One thing I try to focus in on is the heart behind it. You touched on this in point 4. I want to make sure if there is an important point, or a hard to hear truth, the heart and spirit behind it is proper. Sometimes zeal or passion can come across as aggressive or anger…doing a “practice” read can help ensure proper tone is used as well.

  • Dr Ron Sweeney

    Yes having established the Sermon Theme I will work out the broad outline early in the week and then pray and re-visit it during the next few days. I sometimes print out a draft version to see what looks and “feels like” but the final version is never printed out until the Saturday. Then on the Sunday morning I will re-read it first thing and usually find things to amend. Finally before leaving for the church I will listen to the News to ensure I haven’t missed something important..

    An important part is that whilst the congregation sing a pre-sermon hymn I will pray on the lines of ” God I have done my homework and used my brain to the best of my ability but please may the Holy Spirit be present to guide and inspire …….etc

  • I usually do an outline of what I believe the message is from our Lord as He laid on my heart. I will type in bold major points I believe must be emphasized. I know the scriptural address and rely on how I am lead as to what the message is. Many times He changes it after I step into the pulpit and then it is strictly on God power, none of my own, and that is what I love best. Generally God will bring the message to where we live today or how the scripture applies today. I have never rehearsed a message out loud but I have gone over a message multiple times before I would get into the pulpit. For me, typing the message allows for me to keep on what I am lead to deliver and keep it in outline form and let God do the rest.

  • Mary E. Mitchell

    I have been preaching for six years. Yes, I do write and practice my sermon before I deliver it. All the comments in the above replies are true. When I first started preaching, I practiced my sermon with my husband listening. He gave me positive feedback. But, now I don’t practice with him any longer, but I read and practice with myself several times before delivering the sermon. Study to show thy self approved.

  • GodChaser

    Awesome read pastor d, points are simple and clear to implement. Great helps in mentoring!
    Your Servant in Christ,

  • Very true Pastor!! And effective!!!

  • Bishop Loknauth Persaud

    Dear Barry your comments/advice that preachers should practice their sermons before actually preaching them is both important and timely.For as long as I can remember I always practice my sermons even while writing them,pausing ever so often to read them aloud.My daughter who would hear me sometimes would think I am talking to myself, and would say “stop talking to yourself”Glad for this reminder and to know that I am not going mad when I say my sermon out loud while preparing.

  • Steven Hicks

    Great information Barry, I am a big fan of your work and have purchased a number of your well done tools. I am not a minister but have been involved in my Church in many capacities and hope to one day become a pastor regularly giving sermons and presentations guided by the Lord! I have been a senior level executive for many years and also became a certified speaker, trainer and coach through the John Maxwell Group. I am hopeful that the opportunity will present itself in a more formal manner! Thanks again Barry! – Steve

  • John Davis

    Thank for the lesson here, I am in my first pastorate and struggle at times. I rely on my notes too much is what my wife tells me. I too read over it several times and make changes as lead. I will take your advice and do a “dry run” and see how that goes.

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