Soon you will preach your first sermon. You are both excited and understandably nervous. I remember preaching my first sermon and feeling a combination of both nervousness and excitement myself.
To help you prepare for your first sermon, I have some thoughts and advice for you below.
How to Preach Your First Sermon: Thoughts and Advice
This post is not designed to teach you how to write a sermon, but to give general preaching advice for first-time preachers. If you’re looking for a how-to guide on writing an expository sermon, see my post How to Write an Expository Sermon: A Step by Step Guide, or Bryan Chapell’s excellent book entitled Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon.
You might also find it helpful to peruse the preaching resources on this site.
So what do I say to someone who is about to preach his very first sermon? Preach faithfully, but keep two things in mind:
1. Over prepare.
2. Keep it short.
Work Hard During Sermon Preparation
“If you sweat in the study, you can relax in the pulpit,” says H.B. Charles Jr., a man who has written a book on preaching, and is known for his public preaching ministry. By this quote, Charles means if you work hard during sermon preparation, you can relax while you preach. Of course, he does not literally mean “relax” as you would for a leisurely activity, like laying by the pool. Rather, Charles is saying that working hard during sermon preparation eases the nervousness you might feel once you enter the pulpit.
This is true for all preachers. Preaching is never easy. It always requires a lot of work, even for seasoned preachers. But for first-time preachers, working hard during your prep work is especially important.
Besides prayer and talking to trusted Christian friends, the best way to help ease the nerves you might feel and to ensure you serve your people well for your first sermon is to over-prepare.
What does it look like to overprepare?
Ask your pastor questions.
It’s likely your pastor asked you to preach, and it’s likely he’ll give you expectations and instructions. But don’t feel shy asking questions if there’s something on your mind that he does not cover. Better to ask too many questions than overlook a big detail.
As soon as you agree to preach, start on the sermon, even if it’s months in advance. Get started right away.
Consult sermon resources.
Read as much as possible on the text. Although you need to do your own exegetical work, relying on sermon preparation resources more than usual for your first sermon is expected.
Read your sermon aloud.
This is exhausting for me. I don’t like doing it. But, the fruit that it bears is incredible. Reading your sermon aloud aids clarity in the pulpit, and clarity is crucial for good preaching. Reading your sermon in your mind is not enough, at least not for your first sermon. You should read it aloud multiple times.
As you read your sermon aloud, pay attention to what doesn’t make sense and be merciless about editing. Also, time yourself to ensure you are in the allotted time given.
I heard a well-known person in the area of time management and productivity say he practiced one of his speeches in front of three Chihuahua dogs before giving it to the live audience. He figured if he could keep the attention of three dogs he could keep the attention of a human crowd. It sounds strange, in part because it is, but these are the things that top performers are willing to do in private. Who cares if it’s weird. Do it anyway.
Am I recommending you find a couple of puppies to practice your sermon? No. But you should be willing to practice somehow. Probably the best place to practice is at your church’s staff meeting or in front of your church elders.
Pray, pray, and pray some more! See my post What to Pray Before You Preach.
This might mean spiritual warfare. Or it might mean the microphone doesn’t work when you preach. Expect some sort of resistance. It’s normal.
Don’t put too much stock into your first sermon.
I don’t want to needlessly offend, and I want you to rejoice in being noticed by your pastor, and I want you to know the feelings of nervousness are totally normal. On the other side, don’t freak out. Pray a lot, prepare well, seek to be faithful, trust God with the results, and then move on with your life.
God might use you, but he doesn’t need you. Relax. Take this seriously, but the pressure is not on you. Only God’s Holy Spirit can change someone’s heart.
Prepare your family.
If you are a teenager or in your early twenties or so and you come from a Christian family, your mom and dad might want to come to listen to you preach. Prepare them with whatever you think is best for them to know. They are proud of you so let them enjoy it. But also address any potential distractions.
The people of God to whom you preach may not know as much about the Bible as you do, but they are smart. And intuitive, too. For some, they have heard thousands of sermons. They will likely know this is your first sermon. They likely already know your personality. And they will be able to tell if you are faking it or not. Be yourself.
Keep it short.
How long should you preach? The best answer I’ve ever heard from this question is this: for as long as you can keep the congregation’s attention.
Some preachers can pull off preaching for an entire hour. You might be extremely gifted and can pull that off as well, but since this is your first sermon ever, the way of prudence says to keep it short. How long?
Ask your pastor how long should the sermon be, and then try to finish 3-5 minutes under what he says. As a general guideline for your first sermon, 25 to 30 minutes is a good range.
Confident, yet humble.
Don’t be arrogant, but not insecure either. You likely know more about this text than anyone else in the room, save an elder or two or a highly-educated layperson.
Criticism is normal.
You will likely experience a lot of positive feedback after your first sermon, probably more than usual. People know this is hard, and they want you to feel appreciated. But there may be critics as well. After preaching my first sermon during a summer internship in college, I received a lot of good feedback but also received one big criticism: I didn’t have a conclusion. I didn’t know I needed one! That criticism stung, but it has stuck with me to this day and taught me of the need for a sermon conclusion.
Steward your Saturday night.
I sometimes make the mistake of eating too much food on Saturday night or staying up too late. I pay for it the next morning. Steward your energy well by going to bed early the night before you preach.
I hope your first sermon goes well, and the advice above is helpful in the process.