Finishing sermon preparation this morning has me thinking about the process from start to finish. If time is no issue (and it almost always is), here is the full process I follow, with very little commentary, when preparing a sermon:

  1. Select the text – or better yet, have someone, or a team, or a sermon series, or the lectionary select it for you. A text of between 15-20 verses is about all most people can handle in a single sermon.
  2. Read the text several times, thinking primarily about its application to you, the preacher/teacher. Here’s where prayer is most important, although it should take place at every step.
  3. Think about the audience, their place in life, their needs, where the text will bump up against them.
  4. Outline the text – A, B, C, i, ii, iii. Often you’ll get your main points from this step.
  5. Diagram complex sentences, research unclear meanings, consulting commentaries, cross-referencing other biblical texts.
  6. Construct a thesis statement – the main idea or argument of your message. This should generally be a simple sentence.
  7. Select 3-5 main points, then consolidate them to 2-3.
  8. Fill out each point for clarity, listenability, understandability. Here I sometimes ask my wife, kids, or colleagues if I’m making sense.
  9. Tweak for “fix and flow,” in other words, the fixed points that the listener needs to follow, and transitions between those points.
  10. Add analogies, stories, illustrations to explain important or complex principles.
  11. Memorize, practice, edit. Repeat.
  12. Preach, get feedback, critique.

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