Writing the sermon

  • Sumo

There are many preachers, and many many ways to teach the Bible. Sunday preaching is still an important way to came face to face with God’s word. I’m dedicated to it!

I am still learning how to preach, and how to prepare for preaching. Recently I realised a few parts of the process that are important for me (therefore not necessarily important for everyone). I want to write them down so I can keep reflecting on what helps. Maybe in a year I will know myself better and come up with a different list.

For me to preach, I need these four things.

1. Be a Christian
That is, practice the regular and everyday Christian disciplines.

If I am not reading the Bible personally (not in order to prepare something), then preaching preparation seems to go down the tubes. If I pray regularly, I also find I pray more about preaching: about the Bible passages I am preparing, for hearers, for church, etc.

Notably, this ‘step’ of preparation has nothing to do with what I traditionally think of as preparation.

2. Text time
Whatever the Bible passage I am going to preach, I need to get into reading it as soon as I can.

In an average week, I like to do some work on reading the text on Monday morning. This might be an hour or so of reading, sketching out the flow of the argument, looking up some of the words … and then shoving the resultant sheet of notes into a folder. It’s not important to have flashes of inspiration. It is important to start.

3. Wasting time
This surprised me. I think I need to do things that look unproductive and wasteful.

It might be doing a Sudoku. Or pulling weeds from around the hibiscus tree. Or splitting and stacking firewood. Or a million other options. Whatever it is, I find myself thinking, ‘Why am I doing this? I should be working’ and I feel guilty. And, almost invariably, it’s while wasting time that I solve problems I’ve been working on. The big problems. This is when the talk structure falls into place (for me, it’s usually an ‘all at once’ moment). This is when I think of applications to our own lives. Sometimes also relevant illustrations will pop into mind.

This also looks unlike preparation. And I always feel bad about time-wasting. But it seems productive. Perhaps I need to re-think my guilt trips.

4. Page time
I hate this bit. It’s when I actually prepare my notes. I already have the outline, and know the larger points. Now it’s time for details, explanation, connections, as well as start and finish.

This step is where I choose what specifically to explain, and how. Sometimes an individual phrase becomes very important: maybe five words receive five minutes’ attention, because they need to be clear and memorable. Note-writing is when I sense if an illustration will help or distract, and when I struggle to express how God’s word changes our lives. In contrast to step three, step four is all about the details of the sermon.

So what? Two of these four steps feel to me like preparation, and two don’t. The two that do (#2, #4) are steps that deal with details: details of the text or details of the talk. The two that feel less like preparation are still important – even essential – and are much more ‘big picture’, or general.

Next questions. I wonder what might be missing. Have I missed some other steps that are on a different scale? (Eg, how often I have a holiday, or how aware I am of current affairs, or how many books I read per year.) Also, is there some way to make these steps work better?

As the 21st century warning states: YMMV (your mileage may vary). This is my take on what I do. Nonetheless, I’m keen to hear any reactions you might have. Or any thoughts about your own preparation for things. What do you do? How have you learnt to do it better? Any comments will be read with great interest and pleasure!