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Nuts & numbers and outlines and all that stuff...

This week I'm doing a series on message preparation since a friend expressed interest in me doing this, and here we are with post number five on this subject.  If you have missed the first four parts of this series, just go back and read the past few days on the blog and it will cover it.  Or, just look at everything under the label, "Preaching", here on the blog.

Today we're talking about the number of pages to prepare as well as an outline.  Please note that today we're not covering what supporting sources (in addition to the Bible) that I get my information from or any of that.  We are simply talking about my personal method of outlining and deciding the number of pages.  Realize that this is extremely subjective and other preachers would   tell you something different, and they would not be wrong.  I am sharing this because a friend asked me to do a blog series about what personally helps me, not giving a "this is how you do it," or "this is the right way."  Okay, now that that's out of the way...

The bad news of this for those of you who have never prepared a message before is that the  number of pages one prepares really depends on the person, the way they utilize notes or lack thereof, and comes through experience.  I realize that is probably zero help to somebody reading this who is writing their first sermon.  Sorry!   But at least you know that you will need to discover this for yourself through some trial and error and there is nothing wrong with that.  People really do forgive a lot when you're starting out, and even after you've been in this thing a while, people are still pretty forgiving.  :)

There are also sometimes you might use notes, other times not.  There are some messages I preach completely from memory.   Some people are "note people" -- others abhor this method of preparation, and really it's not so much the method but the effectiveness of your preaching.  Are people being reached for God's glory through your speaking?  If so, and you don't use notes, then who cares?  I remember hearing Dr. Beth Grant speak about this once and she said she always got nervous when her husband, David Grant, was getting ready to get up and preach because he had little to no notes prepared, ever -- even when he preached for the General Council.  This was frightening to her.  She always wondered how in the world he was going to do since she prepares copious notes and just thought anyone else who was "normal" did too.  Then the Lord showed her about people's different ministry styles and learning styles and she realized God anoints different methods.  Obviously David Grant is an amazing preacher who pretty much hits the mark every time and likewise if you've heard Beth Grant preach, you know she's a power hitter.  Simply amazing.  Two different methods of preparation -- both amazing deliveries and results.  I also heard her share one time that for her notes are more of a guide or just a comfort to know they are there but often times she rarely refers to them.  That's exactly how I would describe it for myself as well.

I don't follow notes exactly even when using a Powerpoint, they are mostly there for me to just be reminded of each point and illustration.  Sometimes it's just a springboard for me to go into my next point and other times when I am teaching a more in depth message I might follow the notes more closely, such as on a Wednesday night when I'm teaching at Fusion.  Even so, I add a lot to them as the spirit leads.  For example, I have realized that in preparing for me personally, I cannot go over 4 pages of notes for a 30 minute message.   (I type at 14 font all the time as well because I don't want to wear my glasses when I preach, as a general rule.  I know that will probably have to change the older I get.  LOL)  Depending on how much I expound on paper as to my illustration and such I may go 7 pages or so for a 35-45 minute message but that would be maximum.  Anything other that that gets relegated to a series unless I were preaching in Africa or something.  I have gone up to preparing 10 pages for a message to preach in Africa because that's what they expect.  If you get up and give a 30 minute message they will wonder why in the world you bothered to even fly over there to say anything in the first place.   

In general once I have the topic for a message and I have already prayed about how the altar call is going to go, I will set it up with an Introduction, the main points, then the summary and altar call.  There are times I do not break it down into point 1, 2, 3 but the message is all one thought followed by an altar call.  I don't do "points" for the sake of doing points.  They have to make sense, have to flow and not be forced.  If the Holy Spirit gave me one thought to share, I maximize that one thought -- I don't try to add two or three things to it just to go by a certain formula.

I typically do not write out my illustrations, but simply write a word or two or a sentence to remind myself of what the illustration is.  Then I share it from memory. 

My goal is to make what "points" I may have uniform and memorable enough in a message that they are easily remembered by me as I teach them, and easily recalled by my listeners.  When the Lord gives me a topic I start thinking on it and creating an outline that is similar in nature if there would happen to be several points.  For instance my basic outline may look like this for a message about holiness:


Text: I Peter 1:14-16
1)  Do you understand what it is?

ILLUSTRATION: Situation with Marion

2)  Do you understand the importance?

ILLUSTRATION:  Man who died and went to hell and came back

3)  Do you understand the cost?

ILLUSTRATION:  Ministry experience, 1994

Altar Call

I will refer back to the text and discuss it within all of the points.  This is just a very basic outline of a topical message and I could technically just preach from this but normally what I do is have at least four pages written out of what I am going to say, but I have studied it so much before I preach it that I only actually refer to my notes to get the above information -- glance at my notes, then walk away from them and share the information from my heart, while looking into the eyes of those listening.

Tomorrow we're going to talk about my favorite part of message preparation:  selecting illustrations!  Whereas the meat is the Word, illustrations are truly the dessert.


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