Sermon Prep Rhythm (or “Sermon Preparation for Dummies”)

Yesss…. After trying for a while, I think I’ve finally gotten in a sermon preparation rhythm. Here’s how it goes:

I’ve charted out the sermon schedule for the remainder of 2007 and part of 2008. Every upcoming sermon has a sermon “bucket.” (This is a term I picked up from Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan.) A sermon bucket is simply a file where I can dump every story, quote, Bible passage, insight, application, object lesson, etc. that pertains to that particular message. It can take months to accumulate a large sermon bucket. Whenever I watch a movie, read a book, read the Bible, listen to people share about their lives, or whatever, I keep my eyes open for anything that might be relevant to upcoming messages.

Sometimes if God shows me something when I’m reading the Bible, or if a really good illustration comes my way, I’ll go ahead and make a sermon bucket for that topic even if it’s not on the preaching schedule yet. But every message that’s already on the calendar already has a sermon bucket. By the way, Rob Bell once said that whenever he preaches a message, he’s had the sermon bucket collecting for at least a year or so!

On Monday morning, I open a fresh document for the coming Sunday’s sermon. At the top I type in bold letters: “The Big Idea,” and write a concise, pointed statement that is the one thing I’m trying to drive home in that sermon.

Then I take the contents of that message’s sermon bucket and organize it, hanging it all on a bare outline that communicates The Big Idea. Once that’s done, I have all the info I need to write up the rough draft of the sermon manuscript.

On Tuesday, I write out a full manuscript using the outline from the sermon bucket.

On Wednesday, I craft that rough draft into a final draft.  This means clarifying language, rearranging sentence structure, cutting out ideas that are not essential to The Big Idea, and shortening it as much as possible.

From the final draft, I lift out some highlights that I place in a color-coded preaching outline.  This is what I have with me when I preach.  An example of what different colored text means in the preaching outline: red = Scripture, orange = story or illustration, green = memorize word-for-word, blue = general notes, etc.  I take the Scriptures from this and copy it into PowerPoint for Sunday morning.

Thursday, I don’t even look at the sermon.

Friday, I read the final draft over and over, keeping the preaching outline nearby.  I mentally connect everything in the final draft to something on the preaching outline, so that by looking at the preaching outline I can recall everything in the final draft.

On Saturday, I read the final draft once and review the preaching outline once.

Sunday morning, I read the final draft and mentally preach the sermon with the preaching outline.  Throughout the week I pray over every step in the process, but I make a special effort to bathe my Sunday morning preparation in prayer.  The last thing I do is prayerfully commit the message to God, and ask Him to anoint my preaching and open the hearts of the hearers, toward the purpose of changing lives and glorifying Him.

And then I preach my heart out.

The only three things I take up with me are my Bible, my preaching outline, and an acute awareness of how desperately I need God in order to deliver the message effectively.  Obviously, my written final draft and the message I actually deliver are very similar, but not even close to being the same word-for-word (except for the green parts!).  My objective is not to say everything in the manuscript; my objective is to clearly communicate The Big Idea.

As I mentioned, I’ve just now gotten to where I can exercise this rhythm week in and week out.  Now my next step is to try to get far enough ahead to where I’m able to complete the final drafts about four weeks in advance.  I think that’s a reasonable amount of time to do two things: (1) fully internalize the message; and (2) have sufficient time to incorporate other creative elements, such as dramas, videos, banners, music, etc.

I hope this is helpful to someone, and I’d love to hear from some of the other preachers out there about what kind of system you have for developing and delivering sermons.  Let’s learn from each other!

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Published in: on June 14, 2007 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment  

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