I had the opportunity recently to watch Joe Champion, pastor of Celebration Church in Austin, Texas rehearse his weekly sermon from the sanctuary stage – something I’d never seen before. It’s a fascinating concept, and here’s how it works:
On Thursday afternoon, Pastor Champion comes into the sanctuary with some members of his leadership team, including wife and co-pastor Lori. They fire up a single video camera, and he literally preaches full speed ahead from the pulpit. Aside from the staff leaders, he’s facing an empty sanctuary. He preaches the complete message to the camera, and afterwards the leaders give him their critique.
After the delivery, that critique includes the points he made, where he could have mentioned something earlier or later, scripture references, structure, pacing, and more. The exchange was honest and open, and Joe wasn’t in the least offended – in fact, he loved the ideas and input from the team. It’s interesting that seminaries do something similar in teaching pastoral students the art of preaching, but once they graduate, most never practice that technique again.
He told me later that the rehearsal accomplished a number of things:
1) It allowed him to make a “dry run” of the message to work out timing, pacing, and generally make sure it works.
2) After all his sermon preparation, once he’s rehearsed, he can relax until the weekend, knowing he’s done it once before.
3) He enjoys the interchange from his team critiquing the message – what works, and if there’s anything to improve.
4) Finally, the church has a fully videotaped message, so that should Pastor Champion get sick or otherwise be unable to preach on Sunday, they can play the video to the congregation. So far, that’s never happened, but it’s an interesting back-up plan to have.
Reaching today’s culture with the gospel is more challenging than ever, and that’s why I’m always interested in leaders who are experimenting, looking for ways to be more effective, and trying to improve how they engage the audience. Joe Champion at Celebration Church in Austin is one of those innovators, and if you’re a pastor, you might want to explore the idea of a “sermon rehearsal.”