A couple of weeks ago I was asked, “Where do your sermons come from?” I was caught off guard because the person asking the question had just sat through a sermon. I couldn’t tell if it was a loaded question, a backhanded compliment or a sincere effort to understand the process. With a half-smile I responded, “From the Bible.” The lady smiled and said, “No, really. Where do your sermons come from? Do you write them yourself or do you have a resource you use?” I said, “Really. They come from the Bible.” By this time I could tell she was being sincere. She really wanted to know how I developed a sermon.
Writing sermons is a process and through the years my process has changed. Believe it or not…I used to wake up on Monday and pray Okay Lord, what’s next? That is tough way to develop sermons. I know there are people who might believe I just open the Bible and the Holy Spirit takes over; and even though the Spirit of God plays a significant role, I am not exempt from planning, preparation and study. Fortunately, God works through my personality, life experiences and study habits to empower me to preach/teach His Word. There is no standard formula for me (or other pastors) to follow. Here is how I develop sermons:
Each year I take a few days to plan a sermon schedule for the next 12 months. Several weeks prior to this personal retreat, I ask the elders to pray and give me their ideas for topics or passages they discern need to be covered. On the retreat, I pray and plan using my own ideas and their suggestions to come up with a 52-week schedule. I don’t write all 52 sermons on the retreat. I just brainstorm and come up with 52 passages that will be covered. Therefore, when you hear a sermon at Grace, the planning for it began months ago.
When people discover I create a 52-week schedule many times they want to know if I will deviate from it. The answer is “yes.” When following (or adjusting) the 52-week schedule I lean heavily on this promise: You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail. (Proverbs 19:21)
I take my schedule and divide it into sermon series. A sermon series can either be topical (like a series on forgiveness) or exegetical (like going through the book of Philippians verse by verse) and will have between 4-10 separate messages. I break the passages into manageable segments and share them with the creative team.
The Creative Team meeting is the most fun part of developing sermons. It is here that a group of people read God’s Word, brainstorm ideas and come up with relevant themes and titles for each sermon within a series. There is laughter, “Ah-ha” moments and even critical debate in these meetings. When the meeting is over, I know the theme for the series, the image that will used to promote it and the title of each sermon. The Creative Team usually meets 6-8 weeks before the sermon series goes public.
Up until this point, almost all of the sermon preparation has involved the ideas of others for creativity and implementation; but no one can study the passage for me. It is here that sermon development becomes personal and lonely. I say lonely, but I don’t mean alone. God’s Spirit is active when I’m studying a passage and writing a sermon. It is hard to explain, but it is like a conversation (although I don’t hear any voices…if I did that would be creepy and cause for concern).
I ask the Lord to show me what His Word means and how I should share it with His people. I desire to share it in relevant ways that are easy to understand, and therefore, I ask Him to show me how to do this. He answers with a combination of ideas that come from the inductive study of the passage, reading commentaries, watching world/social events and doing life with my family. The conversation with Him about a sermon is not confined to my desk. His ideas/promptings can come when I wake up, while I’m watching ESPN or at the football or soccer field watching one of the boys play. It can even happen while doing laundry (yes people…I do laundry). Really, His answers to my search in sermon development can take place at any moment because His Word is relevant to life in today’s world.
Using His Word, I will develop an outline incorporating what God has taught me personally (inductive study), what He has taught me through others (commentaries/resources), and what He has taught me from life. I strive to get the outline into manageable points that can be shared and explained in 30-40 minutes (I can see your smirk and hear you saying, “Yeah, sure.”) Once the sermon outline is complete, I must get it to proper office personnel one week prior to the scheduled time to share it. They take the outline and use it to prepare all paper and digital publications.
The process of sermon development starts with prayer (myself and elders praying for direction). It is bathed in prayer with the Creative Team. It ends with prayer before I go public with it. Every Sunday morning a group of people pray for the needs of our church. During that prayer time my name is called out. People pray for the Spirit of God to speak through me while I am sharing the sermon. I firmly believe the success of a sermon comes through the prayers of those individuals. Within minutes of their prayers, I am delivering the sermon.
That’s it. That is how I develop and deliver a sermon. Maybe the process surprises you? Did you know I’m not the only one who comes up with ideas for the sermons? Did you think all the creativity comes just from me? I am humbled each time I hear someone say, “God spoke to me through that sermon.” I’m humbled because I know I did not make that happen. I know I cannot make that happen. There really is no “I” in sermon.