One of the hardest things for me to learn when I began ministry 12 years ago was how to prepare a great sermon. Even back then I had a lot to say. It frankly just wasn’t good. In fact, I can remember writing entire sermons and then searching for a scripture to “back up” what I wanted to say. As horrible as this was, I’m thankful that just as God used Balaam’s donkey to declare truth, He also chose to use me in spite of my obvious inability. But, several years experience, feedback from wise mentors, and a few key books have helped me shape my preparation and preaching. Here’s a glance into my preparation process step-by-step:
- Decide the subject. At LifePoint, we function as a teaching team consisting of each pastor who teaches/preaches from the stage on a Sunday morning. What that means is that the burden for preparing sermons is not left solely to one individual. Rather, it may come from one of 5 guys in a room together doing what, at LifeWay, we called ideating. Almost exclusively this subject begins with a scripture. However, from time to time, we do topical series based on a felt need in our congregation or culture.
- Gather resources. There was a day when I had a big file box and each time I had an idea for an illustration, a story, or an outline, I would throw it in there. Each sermon I prepared I would have dozens of ideas to pull from. I still do this… well, kind of. Now I use Evernote. It’s an amazingly robust, paperless, searchable filing system that I use for a repository for all my sermon ideas.
There are many online resources that I use when I begin to develop my content. Here are my favorites: bible.org, monergism.com, preceptaustin.org, disciplemakingintl.org, and desiringgod.org. By the time I exhaust the sites, I typically have more than enough raw content to build my sermon.
- Organize My Content. When it comes to my sermon beginning to take shape, I use a mind-mapping application called MindJet to clearly organize my thoughts into an outline. It’s an easy way to see all my thoughts on one page rather than scrolling through a long word document.
In seminary, I was taught to have 3 or 4 points when outlining my sermon. And, it was best if they were alliterated or were an acrostic. Very rarely do I outline that way anymore. I typically now only use one main point. I outline based on ideas from Andy Stanley’s book, Communicating For A Change. I once heard Rick Warren say, spend as much time on your closing as you do on the rest of your sermon. So, I’ve taken that to heart along with advice I got from Dr. James Merritt, pastor of Cross Pointe Church in suburban Atlanta. He said, take the time to answer the question, “So what will I do with what I’ve learned today?” So I spend a lot of time honing my practical application, which typically makes up 30% of my sermons.
- Transcript. Once my outline is complete, I take my outline and write something that is somewhere between a more detailed outline and a full transcript. I typically use Google Docs for this.
- Teaching Notes. Rarely do I look at my notes during a sermon. However, I haven’t gotten brave enough yet to go on stage without something. So what is it? Well, I typically take my transcript and pull out a few memorable key words that, if I were to glance at them, I’d remember an entire block of content. I also create this document in Google Docs. I drop it into my DropBox account to be easily accessible by my iPad, which I take on stage with me.
This entire process takes anywhere from 12-16 hours, sometimes even more. If you have ideas or comments, I’d love to hear from you. How do you prepare?