Before The Sermon

One of the challenges of the pandemic has been preaching to a camera without people present. Thankfully we are currently able to meet, but there have been many Sundays of just preaching to a camera. When there is an actual gathering of people, and you are preaching, there are lots of things to be aware of between the beginning of the service and the sermon itself.

1. The Time – this is number one for a reason. Sometimes delays happen. End of service still needs to arrive on time. Maybe the announcements take too long, song introductions become mini-sermons, a technical hitch slows things down. What is the result? Well, you need to preach shorter. Be aware of where you can trim time from your message (an illustration that can go, a shortcut through the introduction, removing the review of the series so far), and be careful not to edit out important elements (the major points, the key transitions, etc.) Pray that you will not be annoyed by the adjustment. People can read people and at least some of your listeners will sense it.

2. The Pre-Message Messages – between the announcements, any interviews, prayers, songs, etc., there is usually quite a bit said before you get to preach. Listen to it and maybe you can integrate elements into the message. Especially if someone has done something nerve-wracking like a testimony, be sure to acknowledge and thank them. However, you have a sermon to preach, so make sure an engaging opening (or a terrible one) doesn’t distract you and weaken the message. (And if you are like me, there are sometimes quite amusing comments that come to mind in relation to what has happened earlier in the service. These are often better left behind when it comes time to preach!)

3. The Speaker Introduction – especially if you are a guest speaker, you don’t know what they are going to say about you right before you preach. Generally just say thank you and get on with it. Clever retorts made without time to evaluate can really backfire. (A note to those introducing a speaker. Please only say what is helpful. Too much praise, too much humour, or too much time all make it harder to preach effectively!)

4. The Service Mood – sometimes a congregation is laughing after you’ve been introduced, sometimes they are in a deep and sombre moment. Perhaps they have been bored to death already, or maybe they are distracted by the crying infant. It is helpful to read the congregation and launch accordingly. Adapt your introductory comments as appropriate.

5. The Congregation – as well as evaluating the mood of the congregation, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of the people. If you are not in a position where observing would be awkward, observe and pray for your congregation. This sermon is not about you preaching it, it is about them hearing it. Pray for their hearts to be open and for yours to be beating with Christ’s heart for them.

6. The Journey – minor detail, until you make a mistake. Be sure to check your journey from where you are sat to where you will preach. Any steps? Any microphone cables? I remember one church where I had to climb a literal staircase to get to the pulpit. I was thankful for those extra moments when my introduction came far earlier than expected (and my end time was pre-determined by being a live radio broadcast – I did a lot of thinking and praying on my way up those stairs!)

7. The Focus of the Preacher – it is good to be aware of all these things and probably other things too. At the same time you are thinking about the message. In the midst of it all, remember to pray. You want to preach focused rather than distracted or distressed.

Anything else you would add to this list?

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7 Ways to Guard Hearts at a Christian Conference

Conference2Attending a Christian conference can be an incredible blessing.  The opportunities to learn, to network, to take a break from normal life, to enjoy abundant food and even to sing together with a large crowd of believers, this can all be wonderful.  But there are dangers too, and since I haven’t seen anybody writing about this, here is a set of points to ponder as you head for the next big event:

1. Don’t leave God out of your conversation.  This may seem bizarre when every session, every song, and almost every conversation is probably going to relate to God and ministry.  But I stand by the point – don’t leave God himself out of the conversation.  It is easy to neglect time with Him in order to stay busy talking about His things.  It is easy to stay up late, get up groggy and rush off to breakfast, conversations and plenary sessions.  What about time with God?  What about letting Him have a voice in your day by reading the Bible?  What about pausing to pray since He is important to you?  If your spouse were with you, your frantic intensity and neglect of conversation would do nothing for marital closeness.  So what about Christ?

2. Lean on God to navigate the stresses of networking.  If the conference is a gathering of people involved in ministries like yours, then it is tempting to buzz around like a manic worker bee trying to connect with every significant person in attendance.  In the few days you have, you may not get to everyone you think you should.  Instead of handling that by your own stress, talk to God about it and walk through the days with a reliance on Him.  He can orchestrate the connections that He thinks you need.  I have experienced both the manic version of conference networking, and the trusting God version of it.  The latter version is healthier, more faith-building and more effective.

3. Don’t feed the hype of a glory festival.  Probably the worst part of some Christian events is that they feed the hype of mutual glory hunting.  Jesus warned the religious leaders of his day very strongly about the danger of receiving glory from one another (see John 5:38ff) and yet we still fall into that trap so easily.  Christian events where leaders are gathered are often rife with the stench of human glory.  Determine not to feed it.  Don’t leave a conversation mid-sentence because your favourite author just entered the room.  Don’t ask for autographs (what is the point?)

4. Value every brother and sister in Christ.  Following on from the previous point, it is tempting to have your radar beeping for the famous or high profile people that may be at the conference.  But if you are trusting God to orchestrate your informal connections, then remember that He may be more excited about you loving an “insignificant” brother or sister than your need to shake hands with someone who is in demand.  The “least of these” applies at the conference, and it applies when Big Name is standing right next to you too.

5. Care for the “profile people” as people.  It is easy to elevate well-known speakers and authors as if they are super-Christians.  They are brothers and sisters in Christ.  If you have opportunity to interact, do so lovingly and with sensitivity to them as people.  Express gratitude for their ministry, but get beyond that too.  Show interest in them as people, not just as fonts of knowledge about your pet subjects.  If they have just spoken, recognize that they may be feeling discouraged or drained.  I stood by as one “fan” missed every cue from a “profile person” who was obviously drained and heading for his room.  After a while I was tempted to step in and rescue the speaker from the onslaught of questions and lack of sensitivity.

6. Don’t forget your family role too.  If you are married, but attending the conference alone, then be sure not to abdicate your responsibilities at home.  My wife does an amazing job at home when I am away for a few days, but it is a thankless task.  That is, unless I thank her.  Phone calls, texts, and notes, all show that you appreciate them.  Sometimes your spouse will just need to talk.  Sometimes you may need to comfort or discipline a child over the phone.  It may not feel as exciting as the opportunities in front of you, but it may be the most important ministry you do all week.

7. Be a builder, not a destroyer.  If you put leaders together, inevitably you are creating opportunity for constructive evaluation of everything about the conference.  What did you think of his third point?  Do you like the music?  What was going on with the stewards for the main meeting?  Ministry leaders can’t help evaluating ministry when we are participating in an event, but we can help the tone of our evaluation.  The insecure will criticize and tear down.  The mature in Christ will be careful to build up others in every circumstance.  There will be avenues for constructive criticism – use them to help things improve.  But don’t use conversation to elevate yourself and tear down beloved brothers and sisters in Christ.

Attending a Christian conference is an incredible privilege.  Next time you get that opportunity, why not prayerfully go through these points before you dive in to the crazy schedule?