Part 1 of my post on how long we should spend in sermon prep walked through different reasons we feel compelled to spend a big chunk of our week on it. This post is outlining my process for developing a sermon and how I get a sermon prepared amid my other pastoral responsibilities.
If we make it our aim to help people, which should be the driving force behind our sermon prep, then there are a few benchmarks along the way we need to make sure we cover.
1. Grasp the text’s point.
Whether you are starting with a text or with a topic, you will – if you are preaching sermons – be handling a passage of Scripture. The most critical part of your sermon prep begins with understanding what the text your preaching on is teaching and conveying. What did the author intend? Get to the root of that.
Here is a crucial point we need to remember: if we are preparing to help people, not to impress people, then we will not drown ourselves in an ocean of study we are hoping to unleash on our people that weekend. Instead, we will study until we grasp the text, and then move on to the next phase of the preparation.
2. Connect the point to the lives of your people.
After digging into the passage, then you have to connect it to people’s lives. How does this truth speak to the people you pastor fears, dreams, hurts, sorrows, idols, and understanding of the gospel? In what ways does this passage challenge secular worldview or deepen our awe of the glory of Jesus? The text’s meaning empowers you to show the wisdom of God in applying it to their lives.
The church I pastor is a mixed bag of people. We have doctors, salesmen, business owners, teachers, waiters and waitresses, mechanics, plumbers, contractors, real estate agents, and on the list can go. There are singles trying to figure out relationships and their futures. We have married people struggling to raise kids and rekindled their affections for one another. Christians face many life issues. When I understand that, it shows the ridiculousness of trying to impress them with Greek and Hebrew words. It reminds me that what they need is a glorious vision of Jesus and to see how centering their life on his name gives life, meaning, purpose, and hope to everything they do. I am a theology nerd, but a sermon is not a lecture to seminary students. It is a sermon to help feed and lead the sheep of God to green pastures.
3. Figure out how you will deliver it.
You understand the text and see how it connects to people’s lives. Now the task is to figure out how you will help them understand and apply it. Think through illustrations, stories, and other helpful tools that can bring the truth to life or describe what it looks like applied.
I have preached for over 13 years. In that time, I have developed a comfort level with preaching with a manuscript or an outline. Sometimes I will write a full manuscript to preach with (even though I do not read it). Other times I will jot down an outline of the message to jar my memory and use that to preach. In busy seasons of life or church, if I need to find time in my schedule for other tasks or activities, I will shift from writing my sermon in manuscript form and go with outline form. This process turns studying a passage into a sermon ready to preach.
The weekends roll around with amazing quickness and certainty. When you finish preaching a sermon, the clock ticks before the next one comes due. So how does my sermon prep rhythm look?
Monday – I read the text a few times. Monday is a heavy meeting day for me, so I make sure in I find time in the busyness of my schedule to read the passage I will preach enough times to get familiarity with it. (Time: 10 minutes)
Tuesday – I read the passage again and write a few initial highlights. Again, I read it and take just a few minutes to make a few notes on themes, words, or ideas that emerge in my reading. I will not spend exhaustive time with the text in this period, but I will let the text pass through my pastoral filter. I pastor a church I know. I know their pains and fears. My mind races towards their lives. So when I read the passage, it passes through that filter, and I note the issues that emerge. (Time: 15 minutes)
Wednesday – Grasp the meaning and draw the connections. This day is the hard work. I study commentaries and look for insights on the text. Understanding the passage is my goal. Once complete, I draw explicit connections that will relate to my congregation. (Time: Two hours)
Thursday – Write. On this day, I will write out my sermon, whether that is in manuscript form or outline form. I think through the delivery of the content I have generated. (Time: One to Three hours)
Friday – Review and Refine. This is just a brief time of reading, reviewing, and refining my message. This time familiarizes me with the order and flow of delivering the message. (Time: One hour)
Saturday and Sunday – Preach. It is go time. This is when I deliver the message.
Is this how my sermon prep always unfolds? No. Does it always take this long? No. But this is a general outline of my sermon prep rhythm and time. I have found this plan helps me prepare and deliver sermons week-in-and-week-out to my congregation. The key for doing this is keeping the goal of helping people with my sermon on the forefront. This allows me to preach faithful and fruitful messages while giving the time to leading the church.