I love movies. One of the things I love almost as much as the movie itself is the little extras you often get on DVDs and Blu-Rays. I love watching the behind the scene sections, the interview with the director and actors, how they did the stunts, etc - perhaps it's the nerd in me - but I love seeing how stuff is done.
And so when I come to think about starting to write on this site, I wonder, "What would I like to read about on a pastor's blog?" and I came to the conclusion that it would probably be the same sort of stuff: the behind the scenes of emanate or the behind the scenes of pastoral life.
And so given I'm about to start preparing Monday night's message, I thought I'd write down my process for preparing a teaching. First some principles. Both AJ and I try not to teach theory. Not that we have anything against those that do, it's just that we find it very difficult to do so. I've found that the teachers I admire the most, are those who weave in stories of their own experiences on the subject matter and so you'll find that most of the stuff we teach at emanate is stuff we've walked through and experienced.
Secondly, AJ and I love to teach practically. A great question to ask when preparing your teaching or sermon is, "So what?". I like people to be able to walk away with practical things after listening to me - I'm all for being inspired, but I want to be inspired to do something, not just inspired for the sake of inspiration.
And then thirdly, we try not to "come up with" some teaching. Psalms 127.1 says this, "Unless the LORD builds the house, the work of the builders is useless." I've unfortunately preached many unanointed sermons - they were a waste of my time and the time of the poor people who had to listen to them. I'd sooner have nothing, than something that's not God inspired. And sometimes, I honestly turn up to emanate with nothing prepared, because God hasn't given me anything. And those nights are fun for me - perhaps God wants to do something else that night? (One of the dangers of being a teacher is assuming God always wants you to teach!)
And so those three things - not teaching theory, trying to teach practical things and trying to honor the Lord in what He might want to do are the boundaries of how we teach. I realized a number of years ago that most of us don't need more teaching in our life, we simply need to start doing what we've already learned!
So with those three principles in place - how do I prepare a teaching? Well first of all, I talk with my wife. Perhaps the Lord has given her something? And we try and share the teaching load - AJ will teach something, I'll teach something, perhaps we ask someone else to teach (because we love to receive too and we love to see people walk in their gifts) but if I feel I've got something then I roll with it. Most of my teaching ideas come in the midst of every day life; in the shower, running errands, in meetings, as I fall to sleep, etc. Very rarely do I pray for something to teach on (and when I do, it's because I haven't gotten anything!). But right now for example, I have an idea brewing in my heart about covering the basics of Christianity - reading the Bible, praying, fasting, giving, going to church, that sort of stuff and so after I write this, I'll go be with the Lord and ask Him what He thinks, how to lay it out and then we'll dialogue for a bit on what that looks like, what the best way to lay that out is, etc.
And so once I have an idea of what to teach, I sit down at my laptop and start in one of two places. I either open up a mindmap program (MyThoughts is my current favorite) and flesh out an idea or I'll more likely start straight in Keynote (Apple's version of PowerPoint). I'm a HUGE believer in visual aids - audience attention rates are much higher when you use some sort of visual accompaniment to teaching.
And then usually I just start to work through it. As I give myself to the preparation, the Lord just downloads stuff to me. Verses, thoughts, ideas, examples, illustrations, jokes. When I hit a road block I switch from left brain work to right brain activity. I go looking for images to illustrate my slides, I spend some time laying out the presentation, I listen to music, I consider my font choice. I find I spend as much time preparing the presentation of the slides as I do the content - but for me the presentation of the slides is the content. How you say something is nearly always as important as what you are saying.
These days, I rarely have time to do more than one draft of my teaching but at least 90% of what I preach is prepared and perhaps 10% is ad-libbed. Even when it comes to jokes, 70% of them are things I've thought about before hand (interestingly enough, the other 30% I typically end up apologizing for later!) One of the dangers many people make when starting out teaching is thinking they can just make it up on the fly. In my observation, it takes enormous skill and many years of practice to be able to ad-lib a message that's worthy of people listening to.
The delivery of the message is the easy part - especially if you know the audience. I love teaching at emanate, because we've known each other for a relatively long time. I know there is grace available when I miss stuff and I know that you get my sense of humor and that just makes it easy. I should note though, that the best piece of advice I've ever been given regarding teaching was from an old Scottish teacher, the day before I started work as a high school teacher. He said, "Teach from where you are at. If you have energy, be energetic, if you are tired, teach tired. Your audience will go with you, if they know where you are". That advice has helped me so many times.
Lastly, when it comes to teaching, I want to leave you with some advice that the Lord gave AJ many years ago when she started in ministry. One day when she was stressing about what to teach and felt she had nothing prepared, the Lord said to her, "Honey, you don't prepare sermons, you live a prepared life". If you want to teach more than theory, you need to prepare your life to live so others can learn from it.
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