What My Sermon Writing Process Looks Like
I know most people won’t be interested in this post, but a few groups will. 1) Other pastors who are just curious and/or want to glean something and/or criticize my process. 2) Future preachers looking to gain information and insights. 3) Those who have been following the SBC’s “sermongate” controversy and want to know if I’m plagiarizing or outsourcing my studies.
I do not preach every week. Thus, my process tends to be a two week process. The week before I will be preaching is when I read the Scripture and my commentaries. While reading, I will copy and paste quotes that I might want to use (cited) and sometimes just things I want to read again when I am in the writing process. My commentaries are digital. I did use Wordsearch because they had better prices and sales, but they were purchased by Logos, and that is what I use now. I do not pay for a subscription to Logos. I use one of their base, low cost software packages just for the content that I own. I generally purchase commentary sets on huge sales, though occasionally I will buy a single one (on huge sales). The sets I use and recommend, in no particular order, are
Preaching the Word (probably my favorite)
New International Commentary (super academic but helpful)
I will also sometimes glean from online resources, especially three in particular.
And I should mention that I frequently, for devotional purposes and sermon prep, use the study notes in my Study Bible app put out by Grace to You ministries. That is by far my favorite app for devotional purposes and cross-referencing. You can also have commentaries and whatever other resources you own in apps like Logos or other digital platforms.
During this pre-writing process, I will start jotting down thoughts and ideas for the sermon. They are disorganized at this point.
Monday is usually when I do the bulk of my writing. I manuscript my sermons, so I sit down and start writing from the beginning of the passage onward. I might or might not have a sermon title or introduction at this point. Usually I do not. I want those to come from the writing process and reflect where the text takes the sermon. Tuesday and Wednesday are refining days, unless there is writing to be finished on Tuesday. I read back through the sermon and try to make sure my flow of thought is clear and organized. I will remove some things that are repetitive, unnecessary, or too far off the point of the passage, and I will add some things.
Once the writing and bulk of the refining is finished, I will look for “points” that I want to include in my PowerPoint and half-page sermon outlines (with blanks to fill in) that are included in our bulletins for notetaking. I look for things that stand out as easy to remember and reflect the main teaching points of the passage. I do not write my sermons based on a predetermined outline or set of points. I write the sermon and then pull my outline and points out of it. Sometime in the middle of the week I will create my PowerPoint presentation and bulletin outline, which also includes discussion questions on the back.
I do not write my sermons based on a predetermined outline or set of points. I write the sermon and then pull my outline and points out of it.
In my PowerPoints, I like to use one slide design for the main text and a different one for supporting Scriptures. On a side note, I typically use one translation for the main text and a variety of trusted translations for supporting passages just to mix it up and work against a church culture that takes too much pride in any one translation. I also have a specific design for quotes and another for the main points.
Throughout the week, I will read and reread my sermon. I might even make slight adjustments up to the day before preaching. I usually read it 8-12 times before preaching. This helps me internalize it because, even though I take a manuscript, I try to use it as little as possible.
Toward the end of the week, I will do my highlighting. My manuscripts are colorful. I use one color for everything that will be displayed through PowerPoint and then about three other colors for things to help me keep my flow of thought going without interruption. I actually only use light blue and yellow for highlights, and the other colors (usually light pink and green) are technically shading. This is because of visibility issues. I use multiple colors so that when I am glancing at my sermon, I will be able to more easily distinguish where I am and not get lost on the page. I fan my pages so that I can easily turn one over at a time without fiddling too much with the papers.
Saturday is practice. I preach the sermon two times from the church pulpit. The first time is just like it will be on Sunday. I have my PowerPoint on the screens. I use my own presentation remote (clicker) to move slides. I read all the Scriptures and quotes included in the sermon and just preach it all. Then I immediately preach it again, except the second time I will skip reading the Scriptures and quotes and just focus on the things I will be preaching from memory. I have found practicing the sermon twice in a row at the church the day before preaching to be extremely helpful. It irons out all the wrinkles and helps me prepare for anything I might have missed during the week.
That’s about it. I should mention that prayer is important to the sermon writing process. There are many other presentation and communication tips to be had, but I wanted this to be focused on what it looks like for me to write and prepare a sermon. So there it is.