5 Steps to Writing a Sermon
Ryan Hayden • August 29, 2011sermons writing old
Recently, someone asked me how I prepare sermons. I don’t know why anybody would be interested in this information, but I do think I have found a system that works (for me).
Plan out expository sermon series well in advance.
One of the things that has helped me immensely is to plan out my sermons by series well in advance of when I preach. The main reason I do this is because it gives me a plan of study that keeps me from wondering off into tangent sermons. I have found this idea of planning to be super useful not just for preaching but for teaching as well, I plan out every lecture for the whole year when I have to teach a course and it takes something big and makes it small enough to handle.
Some would say that this level of planning hinders the work of the Holy Spirit, but I would say the opposite is true. I have found that the planned sermons are just what I need and just what the congregation needs. No one can complain that I am picking on them if I preach on something going on now, because I planned out the sermon six months ago.
Read, re-read, and re-reread the passage. Write down any ideas that come to mind as Evernote notes.
About a week before I need to preach a sermon, I start to read and reread the passage of scripture that I am preaching on. I do this during a separate time from my personal devotions. Usually, after I have read a passage through several times, some idea of how to best present the theme or truth in the passage comes to mind and I write in down in Evernote.
I almost never use the first outline that comes to mind, it usually takes me several revisions. I can access both my notes on the passage and the passage itself via my iPad pretty much wherever I am at.
Read (or listen to) relevant material on the subject from other men.
After I have read a passage through a sufficient number of times to get the feel for the passage myself, I will read some commentaries and listen to others preach on the passage. I love sermonaudio.com for this, as I can look up sermons by passage. Sometimes, I will listen to sermons or read commentaries that I wouldn’t recommend to just anybody.
All the while as I am doing this I will continue to put notes into Evernote. After a few days I will have quite a large number of little text files containing outline idea, quotes and relevant cultural and historical information.
Write out a full sermon manuscript.
My next step is to write out a sermon manuscript. I am not a manuscript preacher, but I do not feel prepared unless I have a full manuscript written out. I rarely say all that I have written, and almost always veer off of my manuscript while preaching, but I still think this stage is invaluable. Joseph Parker said that if you don’t know what you are going to say before you preach, you probably won’t know what you said when you are finished (and your congregation won’t either.)
While manuscript writing is hard work, it doesn’t take nearly as much time as reading and ideating about the text. When I have done steps two and three correctly, usally the manuscript just comes together.
(I am very careful to write a manuscript as a speaker and not as a writer. I avoid long sentences and big words, because as I am speaking people can’t reread a sentence or examine the context of a word. I try to close my eyes and type as I would speak, that may be the most valuable part of this step.)
Winnow down my manuscript to the essentials and print it out to preach.
I don’t like to use a manuscript as I speak. I find that having something to read will make me a reader and not a preacher (the manuscript for me is a crutch, and I can’t have it in front of me.) So a day or so after the manuscript has been written, I will read it, make any changes that need to be made and type out an outline that contains:
- Scripture references that need to be read
- Quotes I don’t want to mess up
- Sentences I don’t want to omit
- The outline
When this if finished I print it off , fold it in my Bible (which I only use for preaching) and open it again when I am ready to preach.
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