Using conference call technology to follow in the footsteps of the masters
Did you know that Islamic sermons (Khutbah) are often delivered on Fridays, Jewish sermons on Saturdays, and Christian sermons on Sundays?
I wonder if anyone, somewhere on this wide Earth, is a regular follower who goes from one to the next?
On whichever day they are delivered, sermons that wish to compete with the incessant rain of Ted Talks and Twitter feeds need to be driven by good ideas about relevant topics. Unfortunately, even the best-written sermon falls flat if it isn’t delivered properly.
The secret of writing a great sermon is to train yourself to write for preaching, not reading.
Studying the greats is an important way to learn. They keep it simple, organize their thoughts well, and choose engaging images. Catching three sermons in a row from Friday to Sunday would be a good way to learn too!
Teleconference call technology that records your sermons is a helpful new tool that makes your sermons more widely available over the phone, archives them on the Internet, and helps you learn how to make them better each week.
Get your audience to do the heavy lifting
Some preachers get their ideas across with images. They release a verbal flock of doves, to glide and swoop in slow circles above the congregation into the high-ceiling church, drawing people’s thoughts upward.
Writer Ernest Hemingway had another idea. His “Iceberg Theory” suggested that the deeper meaning of a story should not be evident on the surface so that it can shine through implicitly. He recommended giving the audience “just the bare facts” and letting them draw their own conclusions.
I am partial to both, but icebergs feels kind of cold to me, so I like to illustrate Hemingway’s idea with the image of a porpoise jumping out of an ocean. The sight is arresting and makes us wonder, “why is he jumping?” Is he escaping from something, or jumping for joy? What lies below?
Whether your thoughts are illustrated or implied, if you want to engage your audience as deeply as possible, frame your ideas as questions, and let your listeners come up with the answers.
Organize your thoughts
If your written sermon is too polished and perfect, you might be tempted to “read” it, and reading a sermon word for word is very difficult to do in an engaging way.
Have faith in yourself as an engaging speaker and as a preacher. If you set your ideas down in a logical order that builds to a climax, you will be able to make them come alive.
Sticking with just one central theme helps you build momentum in a sermon. Great, related, interesting ideas will pop up while you are writing. File them under “Next Week,” and you can use the connections to build momentum over a period of months.
Choosing the right “Word”s
Sometimes when we write a sermon, we can forget the higher purpose that people are coming together to share in their place of worship. If we have a personal axe to grind, our sermon may be of limited use. The best topic for a sermon relates to a current issue that everyone is talking or wondering about. The more local the topics are, the better.
Sometimes there are common issues a community is struggling with, but are still too uncomfortable with to address. As a community leader, it is OK to ask “Hey, what about this?”
Once you have a relevant topic, it is usually helpful to find an example of it in scripture. Isn’t it funny how emotional life hasn’t changed much over thousands of years? Take any modern issue, and your holy book will likely say, “Been there, done that.”
Grounding your sermon in the Word ensures your ideas are flowing from the right source.
Writing to preach
Once you have a relevant topic, and a scriptural foundation on which to build, you are at a perfect place to get yourself involved. That’s right: you—because it is you that is standing up in front of everyone this Friday, Saturday or Sunday. The last piece of the “how to write a great sermon” puzzle is to develop your own personal preaching style.
If you fill the air with 1,000 words, no matter how good they are, you will leave no space for your audience to come to your ideas. To paraphrase what Brazilian educator Paolo Freire once said about teaching literacy,
“People are not empty vessels to be filled up with information. People are fires to be lit.”
Preaching is the same.
One way to think about preaching is to think of it like a conversation. You need to leave room for them to reply, even though it will only be in their mind.
Improving your sermons
To approach every sermon you preach as an opportunity to learn, make a quick note after each one about at least one thing that went well, and one point where you seemed to lose the room.
Reflection leads you to write better next week by helping you identify “less of this, more of that.”
Studying the masters can be very enlightening, too. You can obtain speeches by great motivators like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Siraj Wahhaj, and the Dalai Lama.
The best way to improve your sermons, though, is to study your own speeches. How do you do that?
Improving sermons with Conference Call technology
Most sermons are now delivered through a microphone over a public address (PA) system. This makes it easy to use conference call technology to learn how to write a great sermon.
At first, conference calling was just used to “broadcast” sermons over the telephone so members of the congregation could call in from anywhere on the earth and listen in. Listeners even hear background sound, so if you manage to crack up the house, they’ll get that too. Conference call technology was designed to help congregations keep in touch, but it can help you learn, too, by recording your sermon.
“Call Record” is a great teacher
When you go to set up your weekly call (a matter of minutes), just press Conference Recording, and 2 hours later you’ll get an email with an access code to an MP3 file of your sermon mounted on the web. You can email this file in newsletters, or copy it to an archive on your site. The service is very inexpensive.
The Conference Recording feature is where it gets very interesting for those learning how to write a great sermon. Now you can listen to your sermons easily. We all hate listening to our own voice, but you can soon get used to that. Listen to a sermon by Martin Luther King, and then follow it up with one of yours.
Check out his cadence. Long sentences, or short? Jumping porpoises, or lengthy narrative? Images, or just the facts? Martin Luther King was a master of offering a difficult but potentially rewarding choice: an opportunity to practice courage and faith.
That was the best sermon I ever wrote
The ultimate way to use conference call technology as a learning tool is to have your sermon transcribed. Now you have a clean copy of exactly how you write when you preach. The translation from spoken word to written word is priceless. There is no better way to learn how to write a great sermon than by seeing your voice in print, exactly the way you naturally speak.
Whatever tools you use to get better at writing and preaching sermons, faith is still the key. Have faith in yourself, and your ability to find relevant topics for all. Have faith in your ability to bring ideas alive out of scripture into sermons that are helpful, and engaging.