A New Sermon, and a Snapshot of My Process

Here is last Sunday’s sermon, entitled Walking in the Wilderness, from Matthew 3:16-4:11.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 11.37.16 AM

A few people have asked about my weekly process for sermon preparation, so I thought I would share.

  1. I budget 8-10 hours during the week for prep. In the early days of preaching, it usually took twice that.
  2. On Tuesdays, I budget 3-4 hours for exegesis, consultation of commentaries, etc. I create a word document where I dump all I of my thoughts on the passage.
  3. On Fridays, I budget 4 hours for composition. Here I am trying to organize my scattered thoughts, distill a clear central idea, draw up an outline (usually three movements), and come up with at least two compelling illustrations, in 5 pages of uncluttered prose. I send this sermon draft to a dear friend who then comes over and talks me through what worked and what didn’t. This last component has been so valuable to me.
  4. On Saturday evenings, I budget 1-2 hours to revise and to practice the sermon. I want to listen to how it sounds, and get a feel for the flow of the text. I want to be familiar enough with it so that I’m not too tied to my manuscript on Sunday. As I go over it, I underline key phrases and write key words in the margin to trigger my memory.
  5. On Sunday mornings, I budget an hour to look over the sermon once more, and to take a prayer walk so I can offer the sermon to the Lord.
  6. I currently preach from a standard size three-ring binder. In the past, I tried preaching from a half-size binder for about six months, preaching without notes for about four months, and preaching from an iPad (using Good Reader) for about a year and a half. Since moving to California, I’ve gone back to the binder.
  7. I experience the act of preaching as a very personal, vulnerable, and (in my best moments) worshipful activity. Most of the time, I want to hide or disappear after I sit down. Thus, I am so thankful for the opportunity to take Communion directly after the sermon each week, and that the climax of our service is not the sermon, but the Lord’s invitation to the Table. No matter how well or poorly I feel like I did with the sermon, at the Table we are tangibly told that God is with us and for us, and He is known to us “in the breaking of the bread.” (Luke 24:35)
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3 thoughts on “A New Sermon, and a Snapshot of My Process

    • Well, at our church we plan the next two series several months ahead of time. So it’s never a question of, “what should I preach on this week?” so much as how does this sermon fit with the others in the series, and with where we are as a church? We tend to alternate between NT and OT, and diversify genres. So last summer we were in the Wisdom books, then we went through Romans in the Fall, then the Gospels since the first of the year, and we are heading into a series in 1 Samuel during Eastertide.

  1. Thanks for sharing these steps for message prep. I can always tell from what you say and how you say it, that a lot of time, thought, prayer and energy have been devoted to communicating God’s word in a practical, winsome, engaging, challenging and trustworthy manner. Gale and I are truly blessed and helped by your preaching. Myron Salisian.

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