My Highs and Lows in Preaching

Well, as I said in my last post, I’ll be preaching this next Sunday!  In this post, I’d like to share some of my highs and lows in terms of my preaching experiences, and how I am planning to prepare for this coming Sunday.

A lady at church asked me if I had ever done anything like this before.  I responded that I gave eight sermons at one church, yet the congregants seemed to only like my last one (and I’ll explain why later in this post).  But then I went on to say that I won a couple of speech contests.

Let’s start with the speech contests.  This was the Optimist Club Oratorical Contest (see here to read about the Optimist Club).  The first year that I was in this was in Junior High, and I won at the local level but came in third at the second level.  The second year was when I was a freshman in high school, and I won at the local level, then at the second level.  At the third level, however, I don’t remember what place I came in.  I lost, but one couple there—-whose grandson was a competitor—-told me that they thought that I would win.

To prepare for the Optimist Club contests, I memorized my speech and recited it over and over again every night.  I still took in notecards, though.  If I were to use this approach for this coming Sunday, I might do fairly well.  I wouldn’t have to worry about what I’m going to say—-in terms of coming up with the exact phraseology to express my thoughts—-since the speech would already be memorized.  I could then concentrate more on delivering my message powerfully, emphatically, and effectively.  The thing is, I don’t want to memorize my entire sermon.  Years of being in school have burned me out when it comes to memorizing information.

I could walk into the pulpit with extensive notes.  But I don’t want to become a slave to my notes.  When I preached in divinity school, one problem that people identified was that my eye-contact was not good.  As a result, I failed to make a connection with my audience.  So I probably won’t be relying on extensive notes.

But suppose I decide to go a more extemporaneous route—-going into the pulpit with a rough outline of what I want to talk about, yet coming up with the details while I’m actually in the pulpit?  Sometimes this has worked for me, and sometimes it has not.  I’ll start with some times when it has not.  Coming up with words to communicate my thoughts is not always easy for me.  When blogging or writing comments in online discussions, for example, I often feel rather daunted, since I think that my words are inadequate to convey reality or what is on my mind, or I’m afraid that people will try to read between the lines of what I write and will interpret me to be more insensitive than I really am (which has happened in the past).  I don’t want that sort of hesitancy to hinder me when I’m up in the pulpit.  As I look back, there have been times when I have stammered through my entire sermon, or when I have been nervous, and the result was that my message did not go over well.  After one message that I gave, someone told me that I am very articulate—-in my writing, but not so much in my speaking!  And, on an occasion when I was nervous while speaking, people were looking at me with what appeared to be resentment, and one lady afterwards told me that I was among friends and so I didn’t need to feel nervous!  So perhaps people take it personally when you’re speaking to them while being nervous.

There were a couple of times when a more extemporaneous approach served me well, however.  One time, I was giving a sort of testimony.  At first, I was nervous, but, as people appeared to be interested in what I was saying—-as I talked about my experiences in school and so forth—-my confidence grew.  It was like Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention this week, not in the sense that I was as good of a speaker as Clinton, but rather in the sense that I was initially rather stilted, but I became more relaxed, funny, and conversational as my talk proceeded.  The second time when a more extemporaneous approach served me well was in my last sermon at a church.  I spoke from the heart about what the church and the people there meant to me, and what I hoped for the church’s future—-for I was about to move to another city and thus would not be going to that church anymore.  One person after the sermon told me that my message was surprisingly good because he could hear me, I was not relying as much on my notes, and I was telling stories.  Another person told me that he liked my sermon because it was from the heart and not from a textbook.

That brings me to my another point: it’s better for me to preach from the heart.  There were many times when I communicated doctrinal or historical information, but that was not from the heart, and thus my sermons were not as powerful.  Plus, it’s hard to preach spirituality when I myself am not particularly spiritual.  And it was difficult for me to preach about the need for people to be soul-winners when I myself was too shy to evangelize.  There are probably people who can give a powerful sermon without being spiritual or righteous themselves—-we know about scandals in various ministries.  I, however, cannot fake spirituality.  In the past, I got up to the pulpit and spoke about concepts that I did not really understand, at least on a personal (as opposed to an intellectual) level.  This time around, even though I’m not the most spiritual person on the planet, I think that I can communicate spiritual concepts that I actually feel.

So what will I be doing to prepare for this coming Sunday?  I am thinking of writing my entire sermon out, but I will not take the text of the entire sermon into the pulpit, but rather short notes.  Writing the sermon out is necessary in order for my sermon to be neat and orderly.  There are all sorts of ditches and dead-ends that can emerge in a sermon, and I don’t want that to crop up in my delivery.  So I need to prepare, on some level.  At the same time, I want to leave some room for me to be extemporaneous—-where I can speak from the heart.  So it will be me being extemporaneous, within a set structure, if that makes any sense!

I may talk more about this topic as the week proceeds.  We’ll see!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to My Highs and Lows in Preaching

  1. Good post. Good luck next Sunday!


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thanks, Consideragain!


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