Friday, June 24, 2011

The Making of a Sermon ;-)

One of the questions I get a lot from church members and, in fact, from pastors, as well, is: How do you prepare your messages?

Well, every preacher, no matter what the training in homiletics, must eventually find his own “five smooth stones” when it comes to many things in ministry. This is particularly true in the area of preaching and preparation.

For me, because I preach most of the time in a “series” format, I have an idea about the subject matter—even the text—several weeks ahead of time (seldom earlier than that, though). However, the actual message, with its unique theme and focus, is not on my radar until—at the earliest—the Monday prior to the Sunday it will be delivered.

This blend of long-term planning with the actual sermon prepared in the days immediately before it is preached, is for me a good balance. And it is also a vital way to make sure that our excellent creative team at Fair Oaks Church has time to put together a compelling service.

Once I know the text, theme, and focus, the first thing I do is READ. Then I READ MORE, and YET MORE. In fact, it is not unusual for me to read anywhere from 200-400 pages of material even before I jot a note on paper.

What do I read? Books, articles, commentaries, and yes—even other sermons. I never preach another man’s sermons, but like J. Vernon McGee used to say, “Graze on every pasture, but give your own milk.”

And when I find stuff on the internet, I print it all out and bind it together for the reading (sorry, trees. That’s just me, I like print on paper).

When I preached a series based on the life and ministry of Elijah a while back, I read 11 books about the fascinating prophet.

Francis Bacon said, “Reading maketh a full man.” Spurgeon called this process, “Grist for the mill.


Then I write out my thoughts—not in narrative form, but in phrase form, looking for the makings of an outline. Francis Bacon also said, "Writing maketh an exact man." Once I have that skeleton, I put meat on the bones – sub points, illustrations, etc.

Sometimes I will fill up an entire yellow legal pad (8 ½ by 11), but usually about 20 pages or so of disjointed notes that would make no sense to anyone but me.

Finally, I distill it all down to usually a single page of main ideas and send that to the creative team (Joel Slater is the current recipient of these) so that the presentation can be made.

I hide those notes in my heart, but I do take a copy to the stage—and, of course, I have a screen showing me what is being projected.

Usually, I have the material to Joel Slater by mid-day Thursday, though occasionally on Friday. And sometimes, I have additions as late as Sunday morning.

But once I send the notes to Joel, I put it all away until early Sunday morning. I get up at 5:30 a.m. and review all the material.

By the way, after reviewing all the scribblings one final time--I throw them all away and only retain the single distilled page.

Now you know. Feel better? I KNOW I do☺. -- DRS