I know that most of you aren’t pastors and don’t preach sermons on Sunday mornings.
However, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself needing to write a sermon at some point in your life. You may get opportunities to speak in other settings, like in a chapel service in a Christian school, or a Christian group at your local college.
I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on preaching, but I have written quite a few sermons over the years (probably somewhere around 2,000). Here are a few things I have learned in the past 38 years of preaching and writing sermons in our church and other settings.
Step #1: Wrestle With the Passage
When preaching on a passage of Scripture, read through it and write down any thoughts that strike you BEFORE going to commentaries or trying to make an outline.
As you begin to write your sermon, ask yourself, “What is the primary point of this passage?” The answer to that question will shape the rest of the sermon.
Then read the passage and think about these questions:
- What is the primary reason God included this passage in the Bible?
- What does God want people to know about himself through these verses?
- How does the passage point to Jesus?
- How do these verses fit into the bigger picture of the Bible?
- How is God speaking to you as you read these verses?
As you study, consider the context of the Scripture passage and the author’s intent. Why did Paul or John or Isaiah write this? Who was he addressing? Why did he write this?
What was the church in Galatia going through? What was Timothy facing when Paul wrote him? You may or may not include this but it’s good to consider the context of the passage.
Step #2: Engage With Commentaries
At some point in your preparation, I would look at a few commentaries. One reason is to make sure you’re on track with how you are interpreting the passage. Some teachers say not to look at commentaries, but I have found they can be very helpful, and occasionally provide a great quote.
Don’t go overboard on explaining the nitty gritty details behind every Greek or Hebrew word. It can be helpful at times to explain the specific meaning of a Greek word, but the reality is that most people don’t care what the actual word is.
On occasion, I’ll say something like “the Greek word means ‘to change your mind’” but I don’t mention the word.
Step #3: Make an Outline
Before you fully write out all the details of your sermon, consider making a simple outline.
Remember KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid!
You’re not addressing nuclear scientists here. What are a few main points that support the main point of the passage? Each of these main points should be drawn from the text itself and should connect to the primary meaning of the passage.
I would rarely include more than four because people won’t remember them. Heck, I would be doing well if I remembered even two by the following Tuesday.
Step #4: Consider Your Audience
Along these lines, as you write a sermon, think of your audience. In our, church we have a whole range of people from blue-collar workers to university professors. We have teens and young Christians and believers who have followed the Lord for 50 years.
We have lots of people who have suffered in many ways. We have college students, families, single parents. Almost every week there are new people there from all kinds of backgrounds, including among unbelievers who don’t know much or anything about God.
I want to be able to speak to all of them. I want everyone to be able to understand God’s word, and I keep all this in mind as I choose my wording and presentation.
Step #5: Craft Your Introduction
When you write a sermon, you need to think about your introduction. An introduction is a way to set the stage for your message. To create interest. To get people’s attention.
Sometimes a good way to start a message is by asking a question. Like, “Have you ever wondered, is God really in control of all things?” or, “Have you ever just felt like giving up on life?” or “Have you ever wondered why God lets us go through the things we go through?”
Sometimes a humorous story makes for a good Intro. Think of your intro as a way to get people’s attention and interest before you read the Bible passage.
Step #5: Include Illustrations
I always try to include a few illustrations. Illustrations can really make a point come alive and be remembered as well. Many people have told me over the years they remember certain illustrations I used. Illustrations are also great because they give people’s minds a “rest” from the “teaching” parts of the message, but they themselves teach.
Step #6: Search for a quote or two
As I prepare, I will do a search for quotations about a topic, but I would not use more than one or two brief quotes in a message. Quotations can really make a point come alive, just as an illustration can, but too many can make a message boring or feel like some kind of college presentation.
Step #7: Apply the passage
As you develop each main point, think of how your audience might apply it. How might this apply to situations at work or with a roommate or with their children? How might it apply to those who are discouraged or suffering? Application is really important. Why are you teaching this? What do you want them to do? How can we put this into practice? How have you tried to apply this to your life?