Have you ever wondered how to write a sermon?
Through the years I’ve refined a process that I go through every week in preparing my sermons. I don’t cover the complete process of how I select which texts I’ll speak on, but I’ll jump right in, assuming that you’re at your desk with the Scripture and you’re prayed up.
1. Take notes as you read and study the Scripture. This is the first step. At this stage, you don’t yet have an outline or a main idea. You just want to get a “lay of the land” and get a feel for what the Scripture is saying and writing down things of interest. During this stage, though, I’m always on high alert and ready to write down some possibilities for the main idea.
2. Come up with your main idea. In this blog post, I go into more depth as to what a main idea is, but in short, a main idea is a one sentence application of what your entire sermon is about. The whole thing should revolve and point to that one statement. Here are a few examples that I’ve used in the past.
God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary work (Matthew 28:18-20)
True spiritual blessing comes from serving others (Isaiah 58)
A humble character is attractive to God and people (Ruth)
Once you have the main idea, you have the sermon. This is the part that takes the most time. You can have pages and pages of notes, but if you don’t yet have this, you do not yet have a clear message that’s ready to be preached.
3. Write an outline. This is what will guide your manuscript. What will your main points be? What will your main Scriptures be? At this point, this doesn’t yet have to be a really tight and formal outline. And this doesn’t have to take a long time to do. This process may only take 30 minutes.
4. Write out a manuscript. I think this is the step that distinguishes the great preachers from the mediocre ones. This would be a manuscript of what you’re actually going to say, in the way that you would say it. So at this point, you’d write out everything word-for-word. Perhaps in a future post I’ll plan things out and make a case as to why you should write out a manuscript. Is it absolutely necessary? No. But it will make your sermon much better. There have been weeks in which I’ve had various emergencies and haven’t been able to get to my sermon until later in the week. One particular time, it was the night before I had to preach the sermon. I was tired and didn’t want to move further. But I buckled down and wrote out a manuscript anyway. Guess what happened? Everything became much sharper. The sermon became much better, and I was able to internalize the message more.
5. Have someone read and give feedback on the manuscript. Besides writing out a manuscript, I think this is one of the best things that anyone can do. Think about it. You’ve been working on this thing all week possibly. You’ve spent many hours on it, and so its easy to no longer see the “forest for the trees.” It’s very helpful to get a fresh pair of eyes on it to see if it makes sense, is engaging, and is clear. My wife helps me with this. I ask her about the introduction, the transitions, the main idea, and the Scriptures. I can’t tell you how many times she’s saved me just by asking questions about the topic and the manuscript. Through her questions, I’ve often been able to notice areas that are unclear or that drag the sermon down. There have been several times, in fact, in which I’ve completely changed my outline and approach based upon the feedback she’s given. She’s the proverbial “person in the pew” and so it’s extremely valuable to get her input.
6. Finalize your outline. After I finish my manuscript, and I’ve had someone give feedback on it, I then go back and make a final outline. Often, through taking the time to write a manuscript, I’ll notice that I need to make an adjustment in my main idea or outline to make things more clear. In the past, I would always stop after writing my manuscript and feel like I was done with the process. There have been countless times in which I’ve just had my manuscript, and I remember that I’m supposed to cover a certain Scripture on a certain page, but have then had to take an awkward moment or two to scan the page and find the Scripture. With a simplified outline, I can just take that up to preach with me, and I can be free to engage the audience.
By the way, make sure to check out this post on The Most Effective Method to Preach With Notes.
7. Do a run-through of the sermon. I actually have a stop watch I use to time myself so I can see how long the sermon will be in real life. Finishing on time is important, so we use a count down clock that the speaker can see.
So those are the basic steps that I take every week in preparing a sermon.
What about you? What process do you follow? What process has been helpful to you in your speaking preparation?
[image by ryk_neethling]