Last year, I spent three days in Orlando, Florida, at a gathering for pastors. It was three days of worship, education, information, encouragement, and fellowship. I talked with quite a few pastors during that event, but my conversation with good friend (and new father) Luke Mitchell of Hillsdale UMC near Winston-Salem caught my attention:
“Hey Talbot, how about a series called ‘I Pity The Fool!’ from Proverbs? Or ‘Cross-Examination’ for Lent?” Or ’23 And Me’ from Psalm 23?”
I knew right away that Luke would make a fabulous guest on my podcast, and he joined me in January for the first Simplify The Message podcast. Here are a few of the highlights from that conversation:
Choosing a Pastor/Preaching Workshop
At the beginning of our conversation, Luke shares the “why” he decided to attend a preaching workshop that I led a couple of years ago.
Luke shares, “As most pastors know, studying how to preach before you preach is a different ballgame than studying while you’re preaching. It’s like studying Spanish in the classroom vs. being immersed and living in Guatemala, you learn at a completely different rate.”
Luke had been preaching to a live congregation for approximately four years before he signed up for a preaching workshop. Signing up to meet with other pastors was just as important to him as learning more about preaching; preaching workshops serve as incredible networking events due to their size and structure. Simplify The Message workshops can be a one, two, or three day seminar depending on the host and goals for the event.
Luke chose to attend a Simplify The Message workshop because he had read some of my bible study books and had seen some of my sermon series in action; he knew there was a connection there between the study, the series, and ultimately the clarity within the message.
What’s the Difference Between Seminary Classes and a Preaching Workshop?
Luke shares, “In seminary, many of the classes take an academic approach. They focus a lot on the why, but in a cohort workshop, we focus more on the how.”
Preaching cohorts and workshops provide a different approach than an academic course; they allow participants to put what’s taught into practice and get feedback from other preachers in real time. Implementing a combination of preparedness and spontaneity can seem difficult, but in the podcast, Luke and I discuss the process behind that goal.
“Listening for idioms or phrases in preparation for a sermon lends to the creativity side…then writing out the sermon before you preach it…practicing allows for a lot more spontaneity on Sunday,” Luke said.
Habits, Preaching, and Bottom Lines
Luke and I discuss the type of habits that are helpful to preaching preparation and delivery. In addition to “manuscripting”, Luke now identifies the “bottom line” before writing the sermon.
“If I write my sermon first before I get to the main point, then I’m not really sure where I’m going,” shares Luke.
Luke also talks about the difference between clarifying points and messages that encourage action. We continue to explore the difference between three-point and one-point sermons, and how preparing a sermon is preparing is for the ear, not the eye.
After the workshop, Luke changed his sermon preparation strategy.
“I changed the stages of my message preparation. I start with studying exegesis and make sure I know the passage really well. Then, before I go on to the writing of the sermon, I work up a bottom line – a singular sentence that is the main point of the entire sermon. Prior to your cohort, I would write through the sermon and then when I got to delivering the main point, that’s when I would work on the bottom line. I found that led to bottom lines that were forced and only reflected that paragraph, not the entire sermon.”
Keys to the Bottom Line
Next, I asked Luke to share the keys to making a good bottom line, especially one that packs a rhetorical punch and is biblically accurate.
He shares that when he wrote a bottom-line sentence on Galatians 5, it was good and informative, but not empowering. It was clarifying, but it didn’t lead to any type of application. Now, Luke strives to write bottom lines that are more empowering than informative. After considering several bottom lines, he ended up delivering a sermon with this one:
Galatians 5 sermons usually center on fruit of the spirit, but Luke’s bottom line empowers his congregation to take action toward living for Christ.
Next, I ask Luke why, in our 21st-century culture, a single point sermon is so important. Luke shares his thoughts on technology and our attention spans; he explains his experience has shown that it’s best if sermons have one strong memorable takeaway. Next, he shares a few bottom lines that resonate with him and the Scripture passages that inspired him.
You can listen to the entire podcast on any device via Soundcloud:
Luke, it was a privilege and an honor to host you on my podcast, and I hope we can do it again someday. If you’d like to see Luke’s one point sermon in action, here’s a YouTube video: