One of the questions that I commonly get asked is, how do I prepare a sermon? So today, I want to give you a look into how a sermon comes together. It is not just a one-step process. Rarely do I have a stand alone sermon. Almost everything is connected to something else in some way. Let me take you into my world for a few minutes and share this process with you.
The Big Idea
Most series ideas are brainstormed in a group setting with the church staff as we talk about what we feel are our biggest needs, where we believe God wants to take us and what He is wanting to say to us. We will discuss broad themes as a group and nail down 5-6 things we think are needed for the next twelve months. Occasionally we will deviate from this process. Last year I felt a real desire to preach through the Pentateuch, so that was the focus for 2018. These themes are usually discussed at our semi-annual staff retreats, with series titles usually being decided as we get a little closer to that date.
After we have a big idea, I begin the process of fleshing out the options within that framework. If there is a specific topic, I look at as many verses and stories in the Bible that relate to that topic as possible. I prefer stories instead of single verses as it is easier to explore an idea in a story without abusing context. Recently, my assistant Tyler has taken the role of sorting through many of the stories and verses. For example, for the Pentateuch this year, Tyler went through and divided each book into about 20 sections to make it easier for me to sort through. From there I choose which ones we will preach from on Sunday.
Once we have our options, I begin looking for a theme or an approach that ties the stories or topics together. In a recent series on Joseph, it was clear to me that there was a tension in Joseph’s life with every blessing that he received. So every sermon in that series examined a blessing and a tension.
On my weekly task lists, I have a portion called “sermon basics”. Essentially, it is dividing up the week’s sermon into the main points I want to tackle during delivery. It is a basic outline. Essentially, this is what will go on the screen for everyone to see. It usually includes titles and verses. I try to be two or three weeks ahead with this portion of sermon preparation. This allows our campus pastor at Bertie, or one of the other staff members who may be preaching, an opportunity to begin to get their thoughts around a sermon ahead of time.
On Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. I read the sermon basics several times so that I start the week thinking about the next sermon, not the last sermon.
I preach with an outline on my iPad. Some people use manuscripts. However you choose to take on this portion of preparation is fine by me. By the time I preach it, the outline is mostly for reference to a quote or statistic. I try to have a the full outline completed on Tuesday evening prior to preaching on Sunday. Usually there will be changes throughout the week, but this will be the meat of what will be said on Sunday. This allows me to begin to think through how this should be delivered every day that week.
Outline Touch Up and Quotes
Saturday morning, the first thing I do is make sure the sermon is polished. I highlight any quotes I want to make sure are mentioned and I send those to Alyssa, our media pastor, for social media. I take out things that don’t work and adjust things that need improvement. I read through this a few times Saturday morning.
Read It Again
The last thing I do before I sleep on Saturday and the first thing I do when I wake on Sunday is read through my outline. This ensures it is the one thing on my mind while I sleep and while I am getting ready. I want that to be the only thing I have to think about on Sunday morning. I protect Sunday morning by doing simple things like setting out my clothes the night before. It is the only day I do that. It is simply to keep my mind clear.
So there you have it; a little peek into how a sermon makes it to the stage on Sunday. It doesn’t just happen. I would guess before a sermon is preached, there is at least 30 hours put into it as a group or individually. Maybe this insight will help you while preparing for something you are doing. Delivering a sermon is one of the highlights of my life, but it takes work to get there. But that is true with anything we want to do well.