I have witnessed pastors struggle with writing and delivering sermons. They have read books on preaching by excellent preachers and teachers of preaching. They have read and continue to read and watch great sermons by the great preachers of our times. They spend countless hours researching, writing, and practicing their sermon. Unfortunately, they continue to struggle to develop their style of preaching or to improve their sermons.
I want to suggest that there are some basics we are never taught or maybe were unable to hear when we took the preaching course, read the book on preaching, or read sermons of a preacher we want to emulate.
I have written nine basics to writing sermons. I wish I could claim the basics as my own. They are basics I learned from my seminary preaching professor Dr. Browne Barr; a video tape series on preaching by Dr. Fred Craddock; Dr. Paul Scott Wilson, who was the keynote presenter at the United Methodist Preaching Academy I attended in the late 1980s; and Rev. Dr. Lew Parks seminary professor and author of the book Preaching: In the Small Membership Church.
Reading books, attending lectures, listening to other preachers is extremely important to our developing our skills and preaching styles. However there are nine basics which will undergird and help us develop as a preacher. And there are four principles that guide the nine basics.
First, as a Christian preacher we are called to share the Word of God. That can only happen through praying for God's guidance, not only as we prepare for sermons, but as we live our lives. You can't give people what you don't have. The people of today, as was true in every age, are looking for genuine words of comfort, support, and yes to be challenged by the Word of God. If our prayer life is weak, we have not experienced hope in the midst of despair, and a willingness to struggle with the big questions of life, we will be unable to preach sermons which speak to those we are call to share God's Word.
Second, preaching is not just a gift. Preaching is a skill which we have to develop. If you go early to any athletic event or concert you will notice the players and musicians do the same thing every time they get ready to play. Athletes have certain calisthenics they go through to warm up. They practice their skill over and over again, day in and day out. Musicians warm up by playing scales. How boring that must seem to them. And then they practice the music they will play over and over until the music comes alive through the instrument they are playing. I believe that each week, as we prepare the sermon there are eight exercises we need to go through when writing the sermon. Taking short cuts weakens the sermon we will preach. Rough reading, Exegesis, Arriving at a Theme, and all the other steps are the ways we as preachers warm up, prepare, and are then ready to share God's Word.
Third, working ahead on sermons is crucial. The great preachers of our time work at least six months or more when preparing sermons. The more time we have to prepare sermons, the more time we have to work on developing themes and examples the more effective our sermons become. I know that some people are guided by the Holy Spirit each Sunday morning. Just think what would happen if God worked with them all year long as they developed sermons.
Fourth, the nine steps are best used separately, that is, over days and months not the night before preaching. If you want a good cup of tea you let tea brew. A true connoisseur of tea would not simply pour hot water over the tea for thirty seconds. They let the water have time to absorb the flavors. For the full benefit of each step we take time to let them brew in our mind, soul, and spirit. Through prayer, quiet time, sermon groups, if we are blessed to have them, reading, wrestling with the passage, and the other steps help our sermons come alive.
These are the nine steps covered in a two-day workshop:
- How to do rough reading
- How to do exegesis
- How to develop your theme
- How to develop your main points
- How to use examples, illustrations, and video clips
- How to write the introduction and conclusion
- The importance of having a written copy of your sermon
- The importance of preaching ideas not words
- The importance of blending sermon and worship
Interested in how to's? Rev. Dr. Carl Ellis is available for workshops and sermon coaching. Contact us!