How to Compose a Sermon in 10 Super Simple Steps

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Maybe some of you write sermons (in which case you can tell me if I’m off track, because you probably have more experience). Maybe some of you will need to write sermons. Maybe some of you will never write a sermon but are curious about the process. Maybe some of you write non-sermon things and realize that the process is dramatically similar. Maybe some of you couldn’t care less, in which case I would recommend forgoing the rest of this post and trying the site again tomorrow.

  1. Look up the passages you’ll be preaching on and read them. If you’re part of a denomination that follows a lectionary cycle, these will be decided for you, leaving you with fun texts like, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple,” from this week’s Revised Common Lectionary Gospel passage.
  2. Read some commentaries and maybe some other peoples’ sermons. If you’re working from lectionary readings, this shouldn’t be too difficult, as the readings are repeated every three years. If you think you will be preparing many sermons for years to come, rest in the confidence that in multiples of three years you can go back and reflect on what the hell you were thinking.
  3. Reflect on what you’ve read. Let the passages and the commentaries roll around in the rock polisher of your mind for a while. If any interesting and relevant anecdotes or cultural references come to mind, record them or you will immediately forget and curse yourself.
  4. Pray. In whatever form prayer takes for you, but aim for something more than “Dear God please let me be done soon.” Prayer as part of any writing process, if you are both the writing and the praying sort, is a fruitful and interesting endeavor. When you have the power to affect how people think, it’s not a bad idea to seek a little guidance.
  5. Start writing the sermon. Hahaha, just kidding. Do anything but start writing. Clean the shower. Make sure all the dishes are done. Fix a snack. Scroll too deep into Facebook. Decide it’s finally time to Marie-Kondo your apartment and start by dumping out your entire closet. Write a blog post.
  6. No, seriously, start writing. Continuing to reflect and research may be useful, but it is not writing. Checking social media to see if anyone else is preaching this week and surreptitiously measuring your progress against theirs is not writing. Arranging the canned goods is definitely not writing. At first you might just stare at a blank page and it might feel like that feeling when you bend your fingernail back and it lifts away from the nail bed, but start writing.
  7. Keep writing. Just get it on the page. Perhaps you will reach a coveted state of flow, but if this happens it will probably happen at an inconvenient time, like well after your 11 p.m. bedtime. You may get stuck. It’s okay. Just keep going. The euphoria and relief upon finishing the draft will be worth it.
  8. Edit the draft. You may have a luxurious amount of time to bask in a wondrous editing process full of steaming mugs of coffee in slant-rayed sunshine and frolicking unicorns. You might have thirty minutes on Sunday morning before you have to leave for church. You definitely will probably have an equal balance of both of these experiences, for sure.
  9. Format the sermon. You may wish to use the whole page, or a half page, or cut the bottoms of your pages off to make squares. You may wish to switch from portrait to landscape. You may wish to single space or double space or do something in the middle. Perhaps you will choose twelve point font, or fourteen, or even sixteen or higher (or maybe you need glasses). Perhaps Ariel is the font for you, or Times, or Candara. There are choices, so many more choices than you have ever had before.
  10. Print the sermon. Many things can go wrong at this point. The printer can break, the pages can be the wrong size for the lectern, the toner can be low. You may wish to be modern and forward-thinking and preach from an iPad. You are very cool. You are much cooler than I am.

And with this, you are ready for delivery! Easy as pie.

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Participant

This is a helpful list, especially if you find it difficult to get to a finished presentation. However, I would recommend moving prayer from step 4 to step 1. If we think we need prayer as part of the writing process, but not part of the interpretation process, it might be better for our congregations if the printer does break.

 

Participant

Amen. Pray all the way through.

Participant

I am reminded of one prof told me was his three-step process for answering test questions.

1. Read the question. (He said it was amazing how many people skip this step.)

2. Think really hard.

3. Write down the answer.