Every time we preach we have an opportunity to fulfill our God-given calling to impact lives with the truth of God’s Word and the hope of the Gospel. But the effectiveness of our preaching is impacted by a host of variables we cannot control, including distractions in the room. But there is something we can control, and that is how well we prepare.
I’ve written extensively on several aspects of sermon preparation including forming a preaching team, nailing down a weekly prep schedule, and seeking healthy feedback. But I find one of the most often neglected aspects of effective sermon preparation is rehearsing the sermon. By rehearsing I mean preaching the entire message by yourself (or to a handful of people) before you actually preach the sermon to your church.
The reluctance to rehearse is varied. Some preachers might think it’s awkward to preach to themselves. They’re totally right, by the way. It is awkward, but that does not mean you shouldn’t do it. Other preachers might avoid it because they don’t think it’s necessary. Still others may have just never thought of it. I want to show you why I believe the often-neglected step of rehearsing the sermon is essential to great sermon delivery.
Why you should rehearse your sermons
1. To know exactly what to expect when you preach
The first time words are coming out of your mouth for a particular sermon should not be when you are preaching live to your church. There are too many unforeseeable variables that can go wrong. You may have too much content and end up preaching too long because you didn’t know how long that hilarious story about your first date with your wife was actually going to take. Your transitions and segues from one thought to another may make complete sense in your head, but when you try to put them into words they fall apart. Rehearsing allows you to know ahead of time how it will all come together and what the holes are.
It is the same principle that causes your worship leader to rehearse the same song 57 times before singing it once on Sunday — a song that someone else wrote, a song that will take five minutes to play, and a song that they’ve probably done before. Why do worship leaders go through this much effort? To make sure they know exactly what to expect on Sunday. This allows them to lead without distraction because they’re able to focus on the moment rather than trying to remember the next chord. Your preparation benefits in much the same way when you rehearse. This does not mean the Holy Spirit doesn’t lead you in the moment, but that you prepare well enough so that you are free to follow the Spirit’s leading instead of obsessing over your next thought.
2. To work out inconsistencies among your notes, your slides, and your brain
You use a different part of your brain when you read than when you listen, and you use another part when you speak. If you think about it, preparing a sermon without rehearsing uses one part of your brain: reading. You read the words you wrote. Then, you get up and speak those words allowing your church to now listen to them. Two thirds of your editing brain power are used in the moment instead of ahead of time in rehearsal: speaking and listening. One of the best benefits of rehearsing is that it allows you to use three different parts of your brain to evaluate how your sermon is coming across: reading, speaking, and listening.
Also, while your brain is busy processing your sermon content from three different angles, you are able to determine if your slides are consistent with your content. When I rehearse I almost always find that one of my slides is out of sync with my sermon at a given moment. Rehearsing allows me to correct this ahead of time.
3. To make sure you stay on time
One of the most distracting things preachers do is announce to the church when they are running out of time: “I’m almost out of time, we’re running long, just a few more minutes.” It’s bad form to think out loud and letting the church know you’re feeling rushed and hurried because you have too much content and didn’t plan well. Your listeners do not need to be thinking about the clock. That’s your job, and it’s your job to keep it to yourself so they can focus on the content and what God is teaching them through the preaching of his Word. If you rehearse you can know ahead of time if you have too much content, and you get to decide what stays and what goes.
Those are my three reasons why I rehearse every sermon I preach. Now, let’s talk about how to rehearse for the greatest benefit.
How to rehearse your sermons
1. Find a private room where you are comfortable preaching at full volume and expression.
2. Bring your slides, notes, and anything else you’ll have with you when you preach.
3. Set up to record using the voice memo app on your phone or another recorder.
4. Preach the entire sermon, clicking through your slides in real time and using your notes as you would when you preach (don’t forget to record it).
I discuss this process in more depth and with more tools for you to apply in my book Preaching Killer Sermons: How to Create and Deliver Messages that Captivate and Inspire.
Evaluating your rehearsal
These are some important questions to consider when evaluating your recorded content. You may have different ones, but these will get you thinking:
- Is the sermon on time or do you need to cut content?
- Does your content flow well and make sense?
- Do your slides match what you’re saying at every point in the message?
- How does it sound when you say it? Does a part need to be rewritten?
- How are you interacting with your notes? Do they match what you’re saying? Do they need to be adjusted?
- Do you need to jot down that extra illustration you thought of while rehearsing?
- Does this sermon fire you up? Will you feel passionate about it on Sunday?
Finally, I listen to my recording on Sunday morning while clicking through my slides to give myself one last refresher before preaching. I’m a firm believer in this process because I’ve seen it work to improve my preaching and the preaching of so many preachers I’ve helped.