Friday, August 19, 2011

How I Write A Sermon

This is a very unusual post, at least for me. This will sound really strange, but what I am about to write is very personal. This is what I do by myself just about every week of my life. But I thought I would take you into my study and explain to you my process from the studying of Scripture to the writing of a sermon. There are many different methods that people use, but this is how I do it. At least for now. It has certainly evolved over the years and I assume it will continue to as I refine my process. Well, onto it, this is how I write a sermon.

Step 1: Selection of Text of Scripture
Obviously, the first step of the process is having a text of Scripture to preach. I am really not a good preacher when it comes to topical messages. Even when I do preach something like that, I like to have a passage to base things out of. This is one reason why I love expository preaching, because I know what the next passage is for me. This week, I am in Matthew 7:13-14, I know that because last week I ended with Matthew 7:12.

Step 2: Write Text on Paper
This might seem like an unusual part of the process, but it is very important for me. There is something about writing the biblical text that helps me understand it better. I almost always use 8.5" x 11" yellow lined paper. I write the text on the first page and sometimes 1-2 verses per page. I write it in such a way to gain the flow of the passage. I always write it in black ink (you will see why I do that later). I usually try to get the passage written on Tuesday at some point and then just let it sit for a day.

Step 3: Prayerfully Meditate and Read Text Repeatedly
This is probably the most important part of the process. I take time to pray over the text. I read it a lot. I would guess that I go over the text 10-20 times, just reading and writing down observations that I see. During this process, I am brainstorming and trying to gather how this passage fits with the previous and coming passages. As things come to my mind, I will write them down. You might not be surprised to learn that I have a color coded system.

Blue Ink = General comments about the passage
Red Ink = Illustrations and cross-references
Green Ink = Points of Application

The picture below will show you what I do at this point. I know, I am slightly OCD, but it is what works for me. It is usually Wednesday morning that I will spend a couple hours on this part of the process.

Step 4: Use Commentaries To Help Bring About Ideas
Depending on what passage I am studying, I will at this point look at a number of commentaries. I almost always use one commentary and go all the way through my passage. Then pick up the next commentary and go all the way through my passage. And so on. Until I usually get through 10-15 commentaries. As I make my way through these commentaries, I write down info on my sheet that is helpful (and I continue to use my color coded system).

It is also at this point that I am focusing on words, their meanings, and the original language. I am also learning to use Logos for this part of my study. As well as the last step, I do spend a few hours on Wednesday going over some commentaries. But then I try to block out Thursday morning for this step as well.

Step 5: Summary of Main Thoughts & Outlines
This is a very important part of my process. At some point as I am studying the passage, I will take some time and summarize the passage. Most of the time, I do this best as I type it out and see how it looks on the screen. I will usually work on the main thought till it best represents the passage. Then I will work on the outline till it reflects the passage and the main idea.

I use Microsoft Word as my writing tool. I have a custom page size I use (see picture below). So, at this point I usually will have the main idea & an outline typed out. Then I begin to write.

Step 6: Begin Writing
I start from the beginning with my sheet of paper that has all sorts of handwritten notes and start putting my sermon into written format. I usually try to carve up several hours in a row to get a good bit of it written. I try to go by this basic thought:

Explain the text
Illustrate the text
Apply the text

Of course, this is not always followed. But it is a good model to follow. Thursday and Friday are days that I try to get most of the writing done on my message. I usually have 9-11 pages of typed text after this is done. What I write out is probably about 75-80% manuscript. There are some things that I work hard to write out because I want to say it in a very precise way.

Step 7: Finish Rough Draft Alone for 24 Hours
After finishing writing the text, I really like it best to let it sit for a good 24 hours. I want to walk away from it for a while. Let it sit in my mind and on the screen for some time.

Step 8: Final Edits & Print
Usually on Saturday night, I take about 1-2 hours and go over it one last time. From start to finish. I clean up some of the ways I want to say certain things. Then I print it & put it in my special leather binder.

Step 9: Prayerfully Go Over Print Version on Sunday Mornings
On Sunday mornings, I get up early and go over the manuscript I am about to preach just one more time. I use a highlighter (two of them) and a pen. My main thoughts get highlighted in green & my main points I try to make are in yellow. This is an example of the first 2 pages of my sermon from last week.

Step 10: Preach It!
I get up and preach it. I remember reading a quote a few weeks ago that said something to this affect: "I refuse to preach a sermon without the faith to believe that it will do it's work that God wants it to do." That has been helpful recently. I get up and do my best to not be tied to my manuscript, to be passionate, to be truthful, and to drive home the points of the message!

Step 11: Blog About It!
I have been doing this since the beginning of blogging in a series I write called "The Morning After." My point is to try to put in summary the main thoughts and ideas of my message. Some have said it is not a good idea to blog about your messages, but I'm not sure about that. I guess the jury is still out on that part of the process.

That's my process. Then I start all over again with another passage of Scripture. What do you think? Anything surprising to you about my process? Since it is Friday morning, you know I am writing phase of my message prep. Would you please say a prayer for me? Thank you, I greatly appreciate it.

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