If you’ve been involved in a teaching or preaching ministry for any period of time, you’ve probably had to throw a sermon or lesson together at the last minute. If so, you’ve also realized that, even though God is able to work through our weakness (even weakness of preparation), sermons are far more effective when we take the time to carefully plan them in advance. Just as a chef carefully prepares a rare delicacy, pastors should also handle the Word of God with deliberate and thorough attention. When people gather to hear a sermon, they don’t want a microwavable mouthful, they want a meal rich with the flavor of God’s presence.
At Ministry Pass, we want to help pastors learn how to serve up crockpot sermons that have been marinated in the richness of the Bible and personal prayer. We believe the Holy Spirit can speak through us hours, even minutes, before a message begins. But we also believe that He can use our planning to begin working on our lives even further in advance.
Recently, we released a free resource, our Sermon Writing Toolkit, that maps out a 7-day step-by-step process pastors can utilize to plan ahead and better prepare for their sermons. Below is a synopsis that, we believe, will help jumpstart your message preparation this week.
Day 1: Locating the Big Idea
The goal of a sermon is not simply presenting information, but communicating God’s Word. As you’re working through a particular passage, make sure to raise these questions:
Why does this text matter?
In one sentence, what is it trying to teach us?
Essentially, you are asking yourself, “What does these verses communicate to us about God’s relationship to the world?” Sometimes, the “big idea” of a passage is obvious, but not always. Periodically, what seems to be the obvious meaning really isn’t. The best way to find it is to dwell in the passage over a period of time, and to let its message “dwell richly within you.” (Col. 3:16). Be sure to look outside yourself by using commentaries, books, and even other sermons to enrich your understanding of the text. Make sure to take notes on what you find so you’ll be able to include relevant information in your message. You could say this is the research portion of your preparation time.
Eventually you should be able to boil down the “big idea” to one clear sentence. Write this down and save it for later.
(Keep in mind that your understanding of the “big idea” is a fluid task. As you continue to study and unpack the passage, your view of the text may shift a little as it is perfected. This is a good thing, don’t be afraid of it.)
Day 2: Finding Direction
Now you may have the gist of the passage, but where does that take you? It’s not enough to just know the text, you also have to communicate it in a way that resonates with your audience, and calls them to action. On this day, write down, in one sentence, how this passage applies to your people. Consider even creating a “sticky statement”—a short, memorable phrase—that will help your audience remember what the text is teaching.
Today, you’ll also need to begin drafting an outline for your sermon. There are many ways to do this (Traditional 2-4 Point Method; Andy Stanley’s Me, We, God, You We; Running Commentary). Find one way that works for you (and the text), and create your map of your message.
Day 3: Flesh on Bones
I’ve heard it said that the most important parts of a sermon are the first and last words. Can you grab your audience’s attention early, and then wrap up the sermon in a way that resonates long after the last “amen”? Wrestling with the introduction and conclusion is one more way to wrestle with the big idea of the passage itself. You’re not just opening and closing a speech, you’re opening and closing a message from God’s Word. Today, nail down your introduction and conclusion.
Next, fill out your sermon with illustrations to complement the passage’s central truth. Find stories, examples, and humorous anecdotes that enliven the teaching. When used correctly, a good illustration combines the divine inspiration of God’s Word with the spark of human imagination, resulting in vibrant, living pictures that bring your sermon to life. Think about Jesus’ parables. How can you help an ancient text come alive in a way your people will understand? Choose your illustrations wisely.
Day 4: Polish and Shine
Your sermon should be more or less complete at this point. You have the big idea of the passage, and outline, a proper introduction and conclusion, and plenty of illustrations and practical application in-between.
As you apply the finishing touches, filling in the rest of your material, be sure to spend extra time dwelling in the scripture, “finishing” your grasp on it as well. Constantly check and re-check your points, illustrations, and application against the passage. Do they match up? Are you representing it the best you can? Don’t hesitate to change something if you realize it’s out of step. Being true to the Truth is what matters most.
Days 5 and 6: Rest and Revisit
If your schedule allows, spend either Friday or Saturday away from your sermon. God’s work of creation wasn’t complete until he rested from it. Neither is yours. You want to be able to pick it back up and see it with fresh eyes. You’ll notice new things, good and bad. The time away from your sermon will make it better. It will also give you time to pray through the text, and what you have planned to say.
Don’t walk up to the pulpit cold, though. Revisit your sermon, even read parts or all of it aloud so you make sure you can find the rhythm of the message before you deliver it. Even really good sermons can suffer when you forget how it is supposed to sound off of your tongue.
Day 7: Preach
Stand and deliver, and let the Holy Spirit do His work.
Want a guide that will help you write a killer sermon in seven days? You can download our Sermon Writing Toolkit for FREE, here.
Want to check out the materials Ministry Pass has to offer? Sign up for a FREE Ministry Pass trial membership HERE.