My printer behaved badly last Saturday night — just as I started to print my sermon notes for Sunday morning. My troubled history with computers, printers, routers, and mouse pads is the stuff of myth and legend. A boring legend, but still …
I was forced to make a decision. Do I go from memory or do I handwrite my notes?
In this i-age of ours, I knew for sure there must be a better solution. A quick search turned up an app for my iPad called Notability (I am in no way affiliated with this product — this is not a commercial). I am something of a lagger when it comes to technology, so I might assume that everyone on the planet already uses this app. This is just one man’s story.
The app allowed me to open a PDF of my sermon notes so I could preach from the iPad on Sunday morning. I anticipated the good-natured flack I might get from my congregation, so I explained my situation in the opening of the sermon.
I’m not sure if I’m completely “sold” on this method, but let me share some advantages I found in using this app for my notes.
1) Annotations: Every saturday night I sit down with a pen and my freshly-printed sermon notes (unless thwarted by my printer. Nemesis!). This is my favourite step in sermon preparation. I read the passage slowly and I pray through every point. My pen rounds up the elusive insights which had fled from me during the week, only to surrender in this quiet moment. Previously, the “saved” version of my sermon notes lacked annotations (which were usually some of the most thoughtful components of the message). This app allowed me to highlight and “hand write” annotations and save them. Various colours, pen size, etc. I liked that.
True, I could have saved my annotated notes in the past using a scanner. But what am I? A Visigoth? Talk about lagging. Hmph.
2) No Fumbling: Turning pages in the pulpit is not a big deal, but it can be a little cumbersome at times. Having a PDF in front of me (with my annotations) made my materials “cleaner” and no breeze can render me noteless.
3) A Cue: Strangely, I did not feel as “tied” to my notes as I have in the past. The enlarged font and the highlighter made the material spring from the screen and it felt very natural.
4) Storage: I mentioned this above, but being able to send and store my fully annotated notes is a blessing. Saving them to a cloud-type source also protects their safety should I misplace my mobile device.
I grant you, this post will not save the world. But I was helped by this discovery and thought some fellow preachers might be as well.
By the way, Colin Adams uses an inkwell and parchment. But he can totally pull it off.Tweet
I often have a strange experience upon returning from pastor’s conferences. Having just sat under the wonderful preaching of expositor X, I find myself preaching – for about two Sundays – like said expositor.
Its not an intentional move on my part. And frankly, it is a disaster.
Of course, human beings are prone to mimic. Children imitate parents, teens follow peers and even adults pliably become like the people around them. Preachers can imitate other preachers too. Consciously or subconsciously, we can imagine that our preaching would take a great leap forward if we merely adopted the style of our favourite expositor.
We’re wrong, of course. It never works. God won’t let it.
It will feel strange to ourselves and sound phony to our people. Trying to preach like John Piper when you are not John Piper is as stupid as trying to put on Saul’s armour. It just doesn’t fit. We may learn incisive lessons from areas in which gifted expositors excel, but we must finally take off the encumberment of being what we’re not.
God must use MY voice in the act of preaching. The Word must be God’s but the voice must be mine. The Lord desires to speak through me: my unique personality, mannerisms, thought processes, emotional make-up and voice box. I must be true to the Scriptures. Yes. But I must also be true to myself.
Let me share some things that help me take off Saul’s armour.
Be convinced that God really wants you to preach
I worded that carefully. I didn’t say God wants you to ‘preach yourself.’ But he does want you to preach. As Paul said to Timothy, God says to us: “Do not neglect your gift.” Your gift – that is the unique mind, heart and speaking capacities that the Lord has granted you. Your gift is not to be changed but cultivated. God has not called Pastor “You name Him” into your pulpit. He has called you. That may seem astonishing, given our weaknesses and inadequacies, but it is true.
Be sure that it is God’s Word, expressed in your way
It is impossible to make a sermon seem authentically yours if the content of the sermon isn’t. One of the reasons that we can sound like other preachers is that we are preaching their material! I don’t mean we are intentionally plagiarizing. But nonetheless, once we have read our ten commentaries and five sermons, “our sermon” becomes a concoction of Carson, O’Brien, Boice and Stott, all rolled into one. I have heard more than a few sermons where, frankly, I could tell you the commentary that was being leaned upon.
Brothers, this should not be!
I find that the critical stage in my own preparation is where I put the commentaries to the side, prayerfully sit with my open bible, and ask the Lord to help me see the main lines of the sermon. That doesn’t mean that I’m looking for something novel. But I’m looking for something that is mine. I try to express the main thought of the passage in the words of Colin Adams; in terms that have emerged from my own mind and thinking. This is what one writer calls ‘the intuition’, by which he means that part of the sermon preparation that is uniquely crystallizing my own thoughts on what the passage is saying.
Don’t be a devotee
Many preachers have a preaching hero. They may be living or dead but they are admired and looked up to. In some ways, this is not always a bad thing. If you didn’t admire the sermons of Charles Spurgeon (and often felt humbled by them!) there would be something far wrong. Or maybe you’re a Lloyd Jones man, or a Tim Keller fan………….etc.
The danger, however, is that we start to sound like our hero. And we are perpetuate the problem by listening continually to one role model.
Let me stress: I am not against listening to other preachers. Since I only usually hear myself preach on Sundays, I deliberately listen to two or three sermons every week. But I do not listen to one preacher. I listen to fifty. And I am continually adding new preachers to my list. Hopefully, I am not being overly influenced by the style of one individual. If you are impressionable like me, I would encourage you to think in similar terms.
Examine your sermon prayerfully before preaching and ask before God, not only is this genuinely God’s Word, but is this genuinely me?
Ask yourself, ‘is this how I would say this’? ‘Are there words here that Colin Adams would never normally use’? ‘Am I trying to sound smarter or funnier than I actually am’? ‘Would my wife and children recognize me as speaking in this manner’?
If these questions raise issues, we should not hesitate to amend our manuscripts and omit those things which are not like us. Yes, chip away all that is untrue to the Scriptures. But also chip away all that is not true to you. We must ‘edit out’ all that is not us.
Not shoddiness,but naturalness
Please realize that the plea of this article is not a call for shoddiness. Still less, is it a base desire for vulgarity in the pulpit. It is not a call to ‘just be ourselves’. Our preaching can improve. Some of our mannerisms are annoying. Certain aspects of our sermons could do with improving. To this, we say ‘Amen.’
But what we are after is naturalness. The preaching of the bible must be that: the genuine preaching of the bible. But the preacher too much be genuine. He must be himself.Tweet