There is no “one way” to prepare a sermon. There are some better than others. However, the “best way” to prepare a sermon may be different based on one’s training, the space in which one prepares, and a variety of other factors.
Recently, I took the time to write out my process and create a preparation template in both Nozbe and Evernote (have either one open split-screen with Microsoft Word in Windows 8) that help remind me to take all the steps below. I’m certainly not the world’s greatest preacher, but I have done it a while and thought I’d share my process with you. I love to talk preaching with people, so I’d love to learn from your process.
Below are the steps in my typical week-to-week sermon preparation process. Those of you who read this blog regularly know I’m a big believer in long-range sermon planning. So, I do background reading for the next series while I’m preaching a current series. Right now, I’m reading Job-related stuff, though I’m preaching out of the parables. So, preliminary reading for message series is presumed. This is a week-to-week guide.
- Read the text devotionally (3-4 times). Preaching is a spiritual exercise before it’s academic or oratorical.
- Read the text again, noting key phrases, themes, language, humor. This is my first pass at a “dive point.”
- Exegesis. Examine context, structure, form, etc. If need be, deal with the original languages, and get to the bottom of what the text is actually saying.
- Mindmap. I draw a circle, putting the text in the middle. From there, I create though “bubbles” around it. These bubbles might include questions, key textual points, illustration ideas, etc. I let my mind go for a while until the popcorn stops popping. I use pen and paper to do this because we use a different part of our brains to write than to do other things.
- Number the thought bubbles and create a rough outline.
- Open a fresh sermon template in Microsoft Word. Create a template you can open every week complete with the right spacing, margins, page numbering, space for a title, text and big idea. Mine also has space for “For Further Study” questions we use for growth groups. Doing this each week could eat up another 15 minutes. Over a year, that’s a lot of time (nearly 10 hours).
- Write the opening. Takeoff and landing are important. I’ll look back at how I’ve opened the last few sermons. Sometimes I’ll just read the text. Sometime I’ll tell a story. But, it’s good to change up your openings from time to time so people don’t check out at the beginning.
- Search for illustrations. Now that I know what the text is saying and the general thrust of the message, I can look for illustrations. Keep your standards high. It’s got to be really good and actually make the point at hand.
- Write a compelling and thoughtful ending. At NVC, I often preach us right into communion—my ending becomes the communion thought for the morning. So, this one is a biggie.
- Transform outline to a manuscript. I “amplify” the outline into a manuscript. I do this to make sure I can articulate my thoughts clearly. Manuscripting allows me to choose better language. Here’s an example: in preparing last week’s sermon on the Parable of the Vineyard Workers I had the outline point, “like Santa Claus at Christmas” down. Well, two years from now I’ll have no idea what that means. In addition, that “point” is ambiguous and could come out nearly any way when I’m actually delivering the sermon. So, I “amplified” it in writing, saying, “Like kids think of Santa Claus many of us feel because God is gracious, everyone should get something for Christmas. But we also believe if He’s just, He will also check the list twice and make sure the shiniest toys go to the kids who have been good all year, not those who tried to impress him during the month of December.” It’s just clearer. My thought is clearer and the language is clearer than, “Like Santa,” or something like that.
- Mark manuscript for transitions. I highlight a part of the manuscript where I would like whoever is running multimedia during the sermon to advance the slides.
- Create media presentation. I still create my own slides. I always have, by choice.
- Print 2 copies of the sermon – 1 going to the media volunteer
- Print a copy of the multimedia slides for media volunteer.
- Email or Dropbox media presentation. I send it to 3 different people via email. But it’s also always in the cloud so if nothing is working, we can even use our cell phones to upload it to the computer.
- Go over delivery. I generally go over delivery once the night before, and once on Sunday morning. That’s all.
- Preach it.
I know there are better processes out there. But, in general, that’s mine. I’d love to hear yours or hear your comments.