Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lesson and Sermon Preparation Tips

They read from the Book of the Law of God, 
making it clear and
giving the meaning 
so that the people could understand what was being read. 
Neh. 8.8 (NKJV)

1. First things first
  • Become familiar with the text by repeated readings (in a variety of versions), memorization, & some meditation.  (Generally questions and observations start to come to mind. Write them down.)
2. Context, context, context
  • Overview of the book
  • Author, recipients, time, historical context
  • Theme and basic outline of book
  • Occasion for writing (problems, praises, heresies that would affect the content)
  • Get a sense of where the passage fits into the immediate context of the verses & chapter around it.
2. Wrestle with the meaning and structure
  • Read it carefully a few times in several versions. (at least the ones those you are teaching are using.  You don’t want to be surprised by another version having a different key word or slant on the verse.  Look for wording differences that may reflect interesting wrinkles in the Hebrew or Greek.)  Continue to ask questions and have “conversations” with yourself (and others).  (“Why does it say this?” and “Why does it say it this way instead of another way?”)
  • Remember to focus on the verbs. Notice their tense and whether they are commands.
  • Begin thinking about transition words, the structure of the passage in an outline or cause and effect pattern.
  • Give some thought to the genre and why certain things are said and others skipped over.
  • “Finalize” a list of parallel passages to check, OT verses alluded to in the NT, questions to research, and doctrinal truths to think about.
  • Start thinking about possible “Big Ideas” and applications to be made.
 3. Answer questions and develop an understanding
  • All the time in this step you are continuing to think about a big idea and starting to consider how you will structure your talk, the applications for yourself and your listeners, and possible discussion questions.
  • Read the commentaries in order (make sure to have some diversity, not just a favorite teacher or two and not just from one time period), word study articles, and Bible dictionaries as needed.  (1. Linguistic;  2. Historical;  3. Doctrinal;  4. Devotional)
  • Do your word studies, study the parallel passages, check OT verses alluded to in the NT, and research textual, historical, and cultural issues, and doctrinal questions.
  • Think about how this passage touches on basic Bible doctrines (like the Bible, Trinity and attributes of God, the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, Man, Salvation, the Church, God’s plan for the ages/future things, Angels, etc.)
  • Consider and explain skeptics questions, cult proof texts, and “heresy antidotes.”
4. Develop your presentation.
  • Look at other sermons by gifted preachers that were preached on the passage or parts of the passage. This can be helpful in developing illustrations, applications, and outline ideas.
  • Think about how to illustrate the truths with stories or anecdotes.
  • Think about where the gospel points fit in (God’s nature, Only Son, Sin, Precious blood, Eternal Savior, Let Him in).
  • Finalize an outline and big idea (an application oriented thesis statement).
  • Write out your notes.  You do not have to write a manuscript of what you will say.  It is often helpful to write out or work out in you mind the first paragraph if you are not an experienced speaker.
  • Practice giving it (out loud or mumbling to yourself) in spoken words.  At least say the beginning and the transitional statements, illustrations, etc.  If you are concerned about not having enough or too much material, give the whole lesson out loud and time yourself.
  • The classic advice is, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them.”  Nothing is as discouraging for the teachers and listeners as nobody remembering anything about the presentation.
5. Misc. Cautions & Concerns
  • Find a good balance between the doctrinal meat and shoe leather application.
  • Avoid extremes of too many applications or stories, tedious technical explanations, etc.
  • Avoid uncharitable version criticisms of standard versions/translations ( like kjv, nasb, esv, nkjv, niv84, etc. ) or paraphrases (Living, Message) that cause people to doubt their ability to pick up a English Bible and find out what God says.  You can clarify what you understand the meaning to be and even share insights into translation philosophies without “bad mouthing” a good translation. Do feel free to warn about cult rewrites like the Jehovah’s Witness New World “Translation.”
  • Be very cautious about making statements about things you are not studied up on.
  • Watch for “bunny trails.”  Stay on topic. Focus on moving along at the right pace so you will have time for the last part of your lesson.
  • Think about what you will do if you run out of time.  What parts can you be briefer on, where are the good places to stop and continue next time?
  • Be sincere. You can use ideas you glean from others, but after you have internalized them and made them your own.
  • Be honest and be sure to acknowledge quotations or significant use of another persons material.  (Some will choose to not mention it in the oral presentation, but footnote and/or give credit in a handout or manuscript version.)
  • If you quote from someone, make sure there are not serious problems with their doctrine or practice that you will need to make a disclaimer about.
  • It is usually helpful to be familiar with the physical surroundings you will present in.  If possible, go stand in behind the pulpit or lectern, and walk the stage or presenting area to get a feel for your surroundings in advance.
  • Don’t be fake, but don’t be boring.  Use the full stage or space and move your hands.  Think about your facial expressions (Do you tend to be to happy, serious, or blah?). Use a the full range of dynamics and expression in your voice.  Make God’s Word vibrant and alive.

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