My Philosphy
When I was in youth ministry about a hundred years ago, I read a book by the man who started Young Life.  It was entitled "It's a Sin to Bore a Kid". 
It's basic premise was that we have the most important message in the world. If kids are acting up and not listening during your meetings, don't blame them. It's your job to be so interesting, so captivating, that they can't help but be drawn in by what you're saying.

I beleive the same is true with speaking to adults.  What is the #1 complaint people have about churches?  That it's boring.  Although churches have done a lot over the past couple of decades to make the music and other aspects of a service more "relateable" to people, the messages are sometimes another thing.  

So here is my approach to message preperation...

#1.  Use lots of stories and illustrations

This is not original with me.  Who is the greatest teacher of all time?  Jesus.  And why was He so effective?  Matthew 13:34 holds the secret - "Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; He did not say anything to them without using a parable".  Or, as I memorized it a long time ago from The Living Bible,  "Jesus usual method of teaching was to tell the people stories".  

While in Bible College I had a class on Hermanuties (the art of preparing and delivering sermons), and one thing I heard over and over is, "make a point, tell a story, make a point, tell a story, make a point, tell a story."

Most sermons today are almost non-stop explination.  That is hard for people to listen to for any length of time.  More importantly, it's not the best way to really get through to them.  What people relate to, what people remember, are stories that make what you're saying clear and understood.  

So you will notice that thoughout my talks, there will be lots of stories.  And not many about D.L. Moody and other great men from 100 years ago.  The stories are new, fresh, relevant.  

Also you will see me using "word pictures" as often as possible.  By that I mean, rather than saying that "Jesus walked from Bethany to Jerusalem, which is less than two miles" - I will say that "Jesus walked from Bethany to Jerusalem, which is like from here to the football stadium".  "Two miles" is kind of blah and uninteresting, "from here to the football stadium" is much more vivid and real.

And if anyone says, "He's not deep.  All he does it tell stories.  He tries to be entertaining", then just tell them you're trying to be like Jesus.  Seriously.  If you want to be a great communicator, then pattern yourself after the best.  

#2. The introduction and conclusion are critical

I once heard someone say, "Say something interesting in your very first sentence.  Not the second.  Not the third.  But the very first sentence".  

Your job is to immediatly captivate the audience so that they won't have to "try" to listen, they will just be pulled in without even knowing it.  
And there are many ways to do this - start with a great question.  Start with an interesting statistic.  Start with a story.  
Just don't start with, "good morning, turn in your Bibles to such and such", or "today our subject is prayer".  I might do that two times a year, just as variety from everything else.  But week after week you have the challenge of getting people with you from the very start.  I try to do that, as you will see in my messages.  

Also, what you say last, the final words you leave ringing in their ears, is of upmost importance.  We all have heard people who don't speak a lot in public, and even if they occassionally do a good job, their concluding remarks usually just trail off into nothing.  

Plan your conclusion carefully.  You might want to briefly summarize your points or your main idea.  You might want to tell a great story that captures your main idea.  You might ask a series of questions that will help people to personalize the message.  But plan what you're going to say.  Make it count.  

#3. Lead people to your conclusion / main idea

Sometimes pastors will state something like, "and today we are going to see that Christ is the only way to God", and then spend the rest of their time cramming that down people's throats.  Instead, I would suggest "leading" people to that conclusion through the course of your message.
As you talk, you build a case toward that, but you "lead" them into coming to that conclusion on their own.  They "discover" not only that it's true, but why it's true.  People just learn and retain more when they feel like they thought it through and came to a conclusion, than if they feel like someone is saying, "here's what you should believe".  

This is especially true when speaking to "seekers" or spiritually lost people, like at Easter.  Unchurched people, and even believers (particularly men) do not respond well to someone telling them "here's the way it is and now I'm going to convince you why I'm right."  

#4.  Make sure your message is easy for everyone to understand

Recently we had to renew our health insurance.  And the person was telling us things like, "well your PPO won't take your HMO and the DHS and the ADA just passed a new VPO so you can no longer get your RX from your PCP".  We had no idea what most of that meant. To them, that's the language they speak all day.  But to the rest of us in the world, we only deal with it maybe once a year and all those terms and phrases and abbreviations sound like gibberish.  

Guess what?  That's what people have said over the years after hearing another sermon in church - "I have no idea what he was talking about.  What with all the Sadducies and atonement and dimensions of the Old Testament Temple, I checked out early on and just started thinking about who was playing on TV that afternoon."

And I can't imagine that anyone of us is still under the delusion that we need to impress people with our vast theological knowledge.  What's the point of spending all the hours necessary to prepare a sermon, only to use terms and words throughout that only a small percentage of the people hearing it knows what you're talking about?  We might "wow" some folks that way, but most of the time we just bore and confuse people.  

We only have to look to Jesus again as the ultimate example.  After He spoke, people "marveled at His teachings". They didn't walk away saying, "boy, that Jesus is so much smarter than me.  He's so brilliant, I couldn't understand what He was saying."  Instead, they "got it".  He used stories (the prodigal son) that they could relate to.  He used analogies (the kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field) that they could understand.  He took the responsibility upon Himself to make sometimes very deep, profound and even sometimes complicated spiritual truths understandable to average people.   We should do the same.

#5.  Make your messages compelling

It's one thing to make sure that people "get" what your sermon is about.  However, as we all know, the goal is not just the transferance of "information", but rather that it result in "life transformation". 
Making your messages compelling has to do with both what you say and how you say it.  If you can word things in such a way as to touch people's hearts, but deliver those words in a rather monotone voice - it will fall short.  If you can say things with a raspy, emotional tone of voice, but what you're saying isn't really all that great - it will fall short. It must be both WHAT you say and HOW you say it.  

People need you to speak both to their heads and to their hearts. 

#6.  Find a style that works best for you

I used to speak from just an outline.  It would have the verses on it, my main points, and things like "tell the car wreck story here".  That worked pretty well in my youth ministry days.  

However, as things went along, I started to realize a couple of things...
- all my talk were sounding too similar.  I used the same words and phrases over and over.
- about every time I would say something that just 'came to me', it was almost always some inapporpiate comment that I immediately wish I hadn't said.

Eventually, I started writing out my talks word for word.  I still do to this day.  Some people call it "Windows 67".  But when I've written a talk out word for word, I really know it.  I don't stand up there and read it, I just glance down and I can know where I am.  

Another advantage of writing it out, is you have time to pick your words more carefully and to use a variety of words. For instance, you could say something like, "and I have been so busy.  I've been busy with work.  I've
been busy at home..."  Or, you could substitute busy with words like demanding, challenging, keeping my plates spinning, or busier than a one legged Irish dancer.  

On the other hand, some of you work better with just an outline, or something between an outline and writing it out word for word.  You would feel very restricted trying to give it word for word.  And for the most part, giving a sermon with feeling and aliveness is more important than using the exact words you wrote down.  But people who depend too much on their delivery, sometimes think it allows them to get by with less work on the actual content.  
The most effective speakers, of course, have both great content and great delivery.

#7.  Never tell another person's story as your own

On one hand, I can't believe that pastors do this.  On the other, I understand the temptation to do it. But we can't expect God to bless and use our messages if parts are based on things that are not true.

The solution is fairly easy - just think of a story of a similar experience in your own life.  If you can't, you can say, "I heard this week about a guy..." and tell it like that.  

#8.  Plagiarism

Some pastors feel that using another person's sermon ideas or outline or content is like stealing.  I don't see it that way at all.  We sing songs and have music in our services that didn't originate with us or our church.  We use drama scripts that didn't originate with us or our church.  We show video clips that didn't origianate with us or our church.  Everyone is fine with that.  What's the difference?

Sometimes I'll say something like, "this week I came across where (fill in name of pastor or author) said/wrote such and such.  Or they had a great way of looking at this passage" (and then I'll use some of their outline or whatever).
If someone writes or says something that is worded just perfect, just quote them on it.  As in, "a writer named Phillip Yancey once wrote..."

Of course, even when you use a sermon like one of mine, you always have to customize it to yourself and your church situation.   I've made the transcripts where you edit them however you need to.  

#9.  Is longer better? 

Some pastors whose sermons last for 45 minutes or more have said things like, "we don't do sermonettes for Christianettes around here."  As if the longer you speak, the deeper or more effective your sermon is.  
Maybe fifty years ago Americans had the capacity to sit and listen for 45 minutes or an hour.  Maybe some pastors have trained or conditioned their church to expect that and they're fine with it.  Great.
However, most Americans have been conditioned to have a shorter attention span.  That's the culture we live in.  If we were in Africa or the Philippines it might be something else that would influence how long a sermon should be.  

For me, I would much rather have 20 - 25 minutes packed with great Biblical, relevant and compelling content, than to pad and stretch it out for longer.  I would much rather deliver God's message to them in a way that is palatable for them.

#10.  The use of humor

Fact - everybody likes to laugh.  Everyone likes to go (and go back) to places where they laugh and have a good time. Should Christians have to feel envious of their pagan friends because they're out (supposedly) having all the fun, while we sit through boring church services?  Why not flip it around and have the unchurched people hearing at work on Monday some really funny thing that they missed at church yesterday?

Back in my youth ministry days, I didn't want to have a group that just took ski trips and had fun meetings.  I wanted the kids to take their faith seriously.  To take discipleship seriously.  However, if it's like that all the time, while you may have a core of dedicated kids, it will usually remain small.  If all you have is parties and lock-ins, you may attract more kids, but few of them are coming to Christ and really becoming strong believers.
However, if you have both, you can attract and reach a large number of kids AND have a growing core of really committed kids.  
I think that church with adults works in a similiar way. 

You will find jokes throughout most of my sermons.  Some are "canned" jokes that anyone could tell.  Some are things that actually happened to me - something one of my kids said, etc.  

One thing I like to do as often as possible, is have something funny at the very end of the service.  So that as people are laughing you can say, "okay, thanks for coming and see you next week."
When the service ends with laughter, people walk out feeling good.  They think, "church was great today".  They want to come back next week.  

Obviously there are times to be serious.  As Ecclesiastes 4:4 says, "there is a time to weep and a time to laugh".  And it's the combination of those two that help make a service (and the message in it) memorable.  People need to be deeply moved, and they need to have their spirits lifted.  Life is hard for a lot of people. What better way to find some joy than to come together with other believers and have some good laughs.

I am going to eventually include on this website some of the things I do along this line.  Today, with projectors and screens, it's so easy to come up with stuff...
- funny football pictures on Super Bowl Sunday
- crazy pumpkin face carvings and costumes for Halloween
- a modified David Letterman "Valentines Day" top ten list
- funny Olympics pictures
- video someone asking the young kids, "what do your parents talk about on the way home from church?"

I'll throw out a lot of ideas and even give you the power point or media and the notes that I used for the comments I made during the pictures or whatever.