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 4 because people won’t remember them. Heck, I would be doing well if I remembered even 2 by the following Tuesday.
Step #3: 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 #4: 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 #4: 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 #5: 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 #6: 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?
Step #7: Lighten it up where appropriate
If you can add a bit of humor in appropriate places, that can really add to a message. Often, some kind of humor in the introduction helps get people’s attention. I wouldn’t generally recommend telling jokes. If you are able to use humor, let it be in a natural way. A touch of humor (again, when appropriate) can emphasize a point, and give your listeners a small “break” from the intensity of the message, which will then help them refocus on the serious sections.
Step #8: Reveal your own need for God’s help
In your message, include your own weakness and how God has convicted you or helped you apply the Scripture you’re preaching on. You don’t want to come across like you are superior to your listeners. You are all in this together. We’re all growing in Christ. We all have struggles and failures. The more you can relate to your audience, the better your message will be.
Once I told about how I was replacing a toilet in our bathroom (and I’m not any good at home maintenance to start with), and as I tightened a nut on a bolt all of a sudden the base of the toilet cracked. “Arggghhhh!” I shouted, because I would have to buy a whole new toilet. When my wife Kristi heard me and asked what happened, she said, “Did you pray before you started?” And I said in my frustration, “No! And I’m not going to!” Obviously the pastor needs God to help him too.
Step #9: Remember to encourage the saints
Be encouraging. Your goal should be to build up the church. To give people hope. To remind them that God is for them, and God wants them to be victorious even more than they do. To remind them that God will complete the good work he began in them, that he has given them his Spirit to empower them to do God’s word.
When people come to church they often come in weary and discouraged. They come in tired from the battle. They don’t need to be condemned or discouraged. They need to be strengthened and given hope. Hope that God is for them and in control, and working all things for good. Hope that God will empower them and help them. Hope that they can change. Hope that Jesus loves them. This doesn’t mean we can’t challenge folks but I want to be sure everyone leaves with hope. I want it to be more about God’s power than their weakness.
Step #10: Include the good news
And try to include the gospel in every message. Remember there are unbelievers there. There are new believers. This doesn’t mean you need to have an altar call or lead people in a prayer to receive the Lord at the end of your message, though I will occasionally do that. But I try to work the gospel into every message.
I try to share the basics, that Jesus Christ is God, was born a human being and lived a life of perfect obedience to his Father. He was crucified, taking our sins upon himself and God the Father poured out his wrath on Jesus, punishing him in our place. Jesus died, was buried, then on the third day rose physically from the dead. He ascended to heaven where he now reigns as Lord of Lords. And if we believe in Jesus, and call upon him as Lord we will be saved, he will forgive our sins and give us the free gift of eternal life.
I may not always say it in precisely the same way, but I want to get the gospel in there and invite people to believe in Jesus. It might only take two minutes, but I try to include it in each message.
This is how I usually go about preparing a sermon, and things I try to remember. Obviously, we want to remember to pray for God’s help in preparing and delivering our messages as well. I also try to remember that diligence and faithfulness are as important as gifting. So keep working on your preaching, and trust that the Lord will use you to save people and build up his saints.