Before I was called into ministry, I was a cabinet-maker. Most of the cabinets we made were store fixtures for places like The Limited and Victoria’s Secret, as well as furniture, conference tables and other high end pieces for law libraries. Even though it was custom work built on a bench and not an assembly line, oftentimes there were multiple units needed of the same item. For instance, if it were a law library we would build multiple shelving units and multiple desks. Rather than cut material for each individual item, we would figure out the pieces we needed, and then multiply that by the number of units we needed to build. When all the pieces were cut, we would then assemble them. This saved a lot of time and also assured that quality standards were the same for each unit.
Awhile back I decided to apply the same principle to my sermon writing. Since I usually preach in series, it made sense to put together the whole series at once, rather than working on each sermon by itself. As you’ll see, each individual message gets its own personal attention, but writing multiple sermons at once results in better preparation, better use of time and resources, and is much more efficient in every way. I would estimate that my preparation time has been cut in half.
I am going to give you the basic principles for how I prepare multiple messages at once, but I am not going to go into great detail on basic sermon preparation. In other words, I am assuming you have done the proper Bible study, prayer, commentary reading and other background work. This is simply the practical nuts and bolts of building a sermon series.
1. Name your series and how many messages there will be (“four” in the title is just an example).
For our example, we will stick with four. Get out four pieces of paper, or open four documents in your word processor. Write down the name of the series on each document, and then the individual sermon titles.
2. Pick out the main Scripture text(s) for each message.
Insert the text into your document under the title for each sermon.
3. Write your outline for each message.
Outline the first sermon, then the second sermon, and so on. When you do this and look at all four sermons side by side, you will quickly see areas where you have been repetitive, or where you have not covered the topic/text fully, or other areas that need improvement. Edit and fix whatever needs adjustment. You are now outlining with the impact of the entire series in mind, and not just an individual message. You will find this will drastically alter your perception in a very positive manner. A sermon series is in some ways like a book—while there is a theme to each individual message, it should fit under the broader heading of the theme of the series. This will allow for a much stronger impact on your audience.
4. Place all the Scripture texts in the appropriate places.
Insert all Scripture text that you are going to use under the appropriate outline headings. Do this for all points on the first outline, then the second outline, etc. … If you are doing your sermon preparation correctly, you already chose these texts before (or during the process of) making your outline(s). Now put them down on paper.
5. Pick out and place all illustrative material.
This is where you will see HUGE time-savings using this method. You are now searching for illustrative material for the whole series at once, with all four sermons open before you. For instance, you might be looking through an illustration book, reading a magazine, or skimming through videos and find a story or clip that fits well with the series—now determine which sermon it will help to illustrate best. While searching you might find a good illustration for Sermon #3 first, or #1, it doesn’t make any difference. Insert all the illustrations into your outline(s) under the appropriate outline points. If you’re like me, you’ll start moving some illustrations from one sermon to another because you’ll find they are a better fit (this is one of the reasons I do mine on a word processor—it’s much easier to “cut and paste” than retype).