Ministry can be full of time-consuming curveballs. You may find the day to deliver your sermon or lesson is looming and you have little or no time to prepare. Don't pull a college-inspired all-nighter or repeat one of your greatest hits with the hope that people have forgotten it. Instead, use these five tips to deliver a solid last-minute lesson.
1. Start strong with a clear transition.
You know this is not going to be your most prepared presentation. Your nervousness will only grow if the first words out of your mouth are "Um… I… Um…". On the other hand, a strong start will give you a much needed confidence boost. To begin, plan a clear opening/transition statement. Write out a sentence that connects the main idea from what happens just before you begin (a hymn or Scripture) to the main idea of your sermon or lesson. Try to memorize it. If you can't, just read your transition sentence, and begin with confidence.
2. Go with what you know.
When time is short, don't pine after the great idea you had a couple of weeks ago. Consider using one of our great sermon ideas, or lean on your favorite subject or book of the Bible. Already preached on those passages? Pull out your favorite well-underlined spiritual book and use one of your favorite chapters as a source of your teaching. (Be sure to give credit to your source as you begin.)
3. Plan a clear bottom line
One of the main problems with last-minute sermons is the tendency to lose focus. We've all listened while a person has followed one rabbit trail after another sprinkled with their favorite spiritual phrases. The remedy is to decide on a clear bottom line. Ask yourself, "What am I trying to teach?" Narrow your answer to a single sentence and repeat this key point throughout your lesson to make sure you stay on track.
4. Don't be afraid to go short
No one has ever faulted a pastor or teacher for ending early. If your goal is to offer a compelling lesson and move people to action, don't worry if that takes less time than you normally spend teaching. It's better to reach a strong conclusion, stop and leave early than to keep talking until the clock runs out.
5. Avoid story filler
There's nothing wrong with illustrations or videos, but they can be a crutch when you've had less time than usual to prepare. When you're in a crunch, hold yourself to a maximum of two illustrations that add something significant to the content. If you find yourself using more than a couple of stories, it probably means you need a more substantial main idea.
6. Add a time of reflection
The reality is we often teach content without giving learners time to process. The weeks when you haven't had as much time to prepare are perfect opportunities to remedy that problem. Start your sermon by letting people know you will be pausing a couple of times to give everyone a time to reflect and pray over what God is saying. Make sure you develop a prayer or an interesting question at the end of each point to help guide the times of reflection. You might ask the music team to prepare a few more songs or some background instrumentals to help people focus. Reflection doesn't have to stop after your lesson is over. Why not let your sermon preach all week long?
7. Summon your passion
People will forgive many missteps with a passionate presentation. We communicate passion by strategically using pace and pitch. That doesn't mean that you should speak loudly and fast for the entire lesson. A higher pitch conveys excitement and enthusiasm while a lower pitch conveys seriousness and sternness. Think through your presentation and decide which parts you want to seem more exciting and which parts should be more serious and adjust your pitch accordingly. Pace is just as effective at adding passion to your presentation. Slowing down and even pausing occasionally helps focus the audience's attention on a specific section or idea. Think about your main focus moments and mark your outline with a reminder to slow down!
This may not be your finest moment, but it can be far from your worst. And, after you finish your lesson, figure out how you ended up preparing it at the last minute. Then, make a plan to fix the real source of your time crunch.