If you are like me, then the thought of preaching or even speaking in public has been a life-long fear. Maybe you feel called to attend seminary but are worried about the class called “Homiletics.” Maybe you’ve even said to yourself, “How can I get out of taking this class?” Well, the truth is, for most seminaries, Homiletics is a required course for the Masters of Divinity program. So if you are not an M.Div. student then you may be able to avoid the class but if you are, chances are you will have to take this class at some point. So let me give you some insider tips on how the class works and some words of wisdom on how to prepare for the class without driving yourself crazy.
How is the class structured?
For Denver Seminary, each student is required to give two sermons during the semester. Furthermore, each student is required to preach without any notes. They can have their Bibles with them, but the sermon itself must be given from the heart. This doesn’t mean you don’t craft a sermon because another requirement is to write an entire manuscript of your sermon (word for word) and hand it in to the teacher the day you are to preach.
Each sermon is videotaped and you are required to wait a few days then watch yourself preach. After watching the video, you have to write a summary of positive aspects about your delivery (content is important and is analyzed but this class focuses on delivery and technique) and then some areas where you can improve for the next sermon. In addition, while giving the sermon in class, each student is given a critique sheet where they analyze your delivery. The reality is, the most awkward aspect of this process is watching yourself preach on video. I remember the first time I had to watch a recording of me and I’ll be honest, it felt very strange. Yet the point is to objectively watch yourself and improve! The professor does give lectures for the first few weeks of class and teaches you how to craft a sermon and take an exegetical study and translate it into a “Big Idea,” which is the main thrust of your message. The sermons are very structured, which helps get over some of the anxiety.
Some Tips to Prepare for Preaching
Dealing with Anxiety
This is likely the most difficult aspect to overcome. The truth is, the anxiety never really goes away no matter how many times you preach. It does lessen over time and you do get used to it however it never really goes away. For me, I would have rather written a dozen papers and take multiple exams than preach. However, here is the interesting part, after preaching for the first time I found that I loved it! Sometimes, the areas where we struggle the most, are the areas where God is revealed the most. Though you may never feel totally comfortable with preaching and maybe it isn’t your calling, the goal is to give your anxiety up to God.
Once you’ve done the research and crafted your sermon I suggest practicing it at least five times at home. Of these five times, use your notes to help you the first two times. Once you have done this, you’ll be surprised at how much of your sermon has actually spoken to your heart. Then, I suggest practicing at least three more times without your notes and video record yourself. Once you have completed this, WATCH the videos and get used to seeing yourself preach and find areas you can improve. This will greatly benefit you and you will actually see yourself improve each time you practice.
Let your heart be open while you preach
Allow your sermon and the power and love of God to speak to you. I have even found myself welling up with tears as I practice because in reality, whenever you proclaim the truths of God, it is very powerful and life changing. Take your practice seriously as though you are delivering it to a large audience. Allow the truths of God, which you have discovered through your studies, to transform your heart. The best sermon is the one that affects the preacher more than anyone else.
Lastly I recommend resting and doing something else the day before you preach. I recommend going on a walk, doing something fun with your family, or being alone with God. Allow yourself to rest! Personally, the times I did not rest the day before my sermon, made the day of my sermon unbearable. For me, I experienced the most anxiety the day before, which means this is a good time to rest and get my mind off myself. Your anxiety is a “you-focused” perspective. Take the focus off yourself and back to God. This is His message not yours!