I could write great sermons if I just had enough time.
Unfortunately, I don’t have enough time. I never have enough time. I am a bi-vocational pastor and I never have enough time. Here are a few things I have learned about writing sermons in the real world–sermons that don’t take 20 hours to write because I don’t have 20 hours a week to work on them. Let’s think about how to write an excellent, memorable sermon in about an hour a day.
Oh, and by the way… This article is kind of nuts and bolts. I am going to assume you know you should be prayed up.
I have learned that the key to quicker sermon prep for me is to let my subconscience do half the work. (There is a certain mystery for me about how the Holy Spirit works through our subconscience) In order to do that, I find I need to start early. I normally start Sunday afternoon. I don’t spend a lot of time Sunday afternoon—maybe 10 minutes. But, on Sunday afternoon I will normally read over the text several times—usually with my wife. We will often read over it a couple of times and discuss briefly about what we see.
This assumes, of course, that I am preaching in a series and I already know what the next week’s passage is. When I was a young preacher, an older preacher gave me some sound advice, “Son, don’t spend a lot of time picking out the text. It is all in there and it all needs to be preached. Just pick a passage and go with it.” This step alone could save an hour or two in searching for the next perfect passage. If you preach a series through a biblical book, this is done for you.
I often read over the passage again just before I go to bed. Put it on the back burner of your mind and let it simmer. The subconscience and the Holy Spirt begin to do their work.
Monday: Big Idea
On Monday, my preparation is centered around the question: what is the one thing I want to say? What is the big idea? Sometimes this comes quickly. You don’t get any bonus points in preaching for spending lots of time figuring this out. Often, it is obvious. When it is not, this step may take a little longer. No one is grading you by how much time you spend. Get as quickly as possible to the point of saying: “Next week, I want to speak to my people about __________ .”
Once I know what the big idea is, I will try to find an audio book to listen to during the week. I spend several hours a week hiking and I listen to audio books while I hike. If I can find a book that relates to the big idea of the sermon, it is going to help with the next step.
Even if the audio book is not that good, it gets my subconscience thinking about the big idea. I often find that good ideas will come to me out of the blue if I tell my subconscience what I want it to think about.
Tuesday: Make it unforgettable
Tuesday I am looking for the illustration, object lesson, story, or video that will make the sermon unforgettable. I sometimes find a story or video that is so good I know it will stick in people’s mind forever. This is what I am looking for on Tuesday.
This may be the most time-consuming part. As with finding the big idea, I only try to spend as much time as I need. Sometimes a story will come to me from a sermon I heard (or preached) 30 years ago. Google can nearly always find it for me. I will likely have several illustrations in the sermon, but there is one “closer” that I look for on Tuesday.
Wednesday: Three points that revolve around one point
On Wednesday I finish up the organization of the sermon. Normally, this is three points that revolve around one point. There are three little ideas that revolve around one big idea.
I love this slogan from Bryan Chapell: “The meaning of the passage is the message of the sermon.” This week’s message is from Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
The key points are:
- God formed Jeremiah and He formed you
- God knew Jeremiah and He want to know you
- God appointed Jeremiah and He appointed you.
The meaning of the passage is the message of the sermon. I try to work this out by Wednesday.
Thursday – Saturday: Fine-tuning and learning
The rest of the week I spend about an hour a day going over the sermon, learning the sermon so that I can deliver it fluidly, fine-tuning and making minor adjustments.
By the way, for Bible studies (in contrast to sermons) check out Good Questions Have Group Talking. https://www.mybiblestudylessons.com/ 20 ready-to-use questions make Bible Study prep a snap. Answers curated from the best of books and commentaries. I had a pastor tell me that using these lessons cut his prep time for Wednesday Night Bible Study to 15 minutes or so.
I’d be curious to hear your process in the comments below.