Vern Collins – Preaching
Vern Collins, Full-Time Local Pastor, Boone UMC
What is the most challenging thing for you when it comes to preaching?
It is not the act of preaching itself that is most challenging, it is the process of preparation. I work to create a rhythm of preparation that begins on Monday and ends on Friday, but as hard as I work to create and stick to that rhythm, it often feels like it is precariously balanced in the midst of other demands on my time. It seems that it takes one out of the ordinary family demand, or an extra meeting or two, or an unexpected pastoral obligation for me to begin to feel the stress of falling behind in sermon preparation. It took me some time to learn not only did I need to try to protect that preparation rhythm, but also that God is always going to be faithful to this important facet of the work He has called me to.
What is the most rewarding thing?
The most rewarding thing for me about preaching is watching as people engage with God through His Word in ways that they never have before. Sometimes that is in the agreement I see and hear from the congregation while the sermon is being delivered, and other times it is in conversations I have with people in the days and weeks to follow as they share with me the ways the Holy Spirit has been using something that was spoken, to continue to challenge them and work on their hearts. I also love to see people embrace the importance of Scripture in their day to day life as they open themselves to the idea that they can open God's Word and engage with it on their own, trusting that God will speak to them through it.
What has changed about preaching over your years of ministry?
There have been adjustments in my preparation rhythm, but the most significant change I have seen is in the level of comfort I feel in the delivery of the message. When I started in 2008, I preached word for word from a manuscript, but have grown to a place where I rarely glance at the outline I have written. I have learned to trust both the preparation that has been put into the message and the voice God has given me in its delivery, which has allowed me to break free from the tether of the page.
Is there a certain “style” or preaching that you often use and why?
This is a bit tougher to answer because I try to adapt my style depending on the setting, or the theme of the message, or the group to whom I am speaking. Sometimes, for example, I will open the message with a question that I invite folks to turn to two or their others around them and spend two minutes sharing their answers. This not only helps to build community but also creates a point of connection to the message before it has even begun. Regardless of the setting, I work to create a message that is engaging and inviting, and always full of the Gospel, whether overtly or as an undercurrent. Finally, rather than wrapping the message up neatly with a bow, I always try to invite those listening to consider what this could mean in their own life. I will often end with a "what if?" question or an "imagine your life if," statement, thus encouraging listeners to allow the message to continue to work in their lives beyond Sunday morning.
What counsel would you offer those who preach?
Allow God to speak as much to you through the process of preparation and delivery of the message as you hope that God will speak to those who are listening. Remember that you are merely a vessel, and through you might feel like a chipped or cracked vessel, sometimes it is those cracks that allow the light of Christ that is within us to shine through. I would also say, find the process that works for you and trust that process. I have found that there as many different opinions about the best way to prepare a message as there are people who preach. Don't be afraid to learn from others, but don't feel the pressure to make another person's style your style, or process your process. Pay attention to the season of life you are in, and the season your church is in and allow God to lead you in finding the process and the voice that best fits your current context and circumstances. And most importantly, trust that God is faithful to His Word accomplishing what He means for it to accomplish in the lives of those who are hearing it. Many of us wish we could have had more time of preparation when it comes to Sunday morning, but trusting that God will take what you offer and multiply it in the lives of those who hear it, I have found to be critical to continuing to enjoying and growing in the role of one who preaches.
Do you have any resources, experiences, or books you would recommend?
There are a number of online resources that are available, it just takes time to research and find what works for you. I have found Logos to be a helpful tool. They have a free version of their study platform that I have found to be helpful in organizing resources and simplifying the process of research. Don't be afraid to let others into your process and share some of what you are thinking and hearing from the Lord as you are preparing. I have found that those in the congregation have great insight and ask great questions of the Word, which can be incredibly helpful in the process of preparation. Probably the three books I have found most beneficial have been Preachers and Preaching by Martin Lloyd-Jones, Preaching by Fred Craddock, and Preaching Without Notes by Joseph M. Webb.