Sunday, August 22, 2010


Here’s a very personal subject for discussion: How do you prepare your sermons?

The reason it’s so personal is that every one has his or her own way of doing it. Especially if you’ve been cranking them out for a number of years, and you’ve found the way that “works” for you.

Recently I’ve had three successive Sundays in the pulpit, thanks to vacation schedules of my friends. This has forced me back into a discipline of preparation. I remember Frederick Buechner expressing great admiration for the weekly preacher—he had weeks, even months between sermons and could only imagine how difficult it must be to squeeze preparation into a week. A planned agenda of sermonizing, however, does make it manageable.

So, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve worked out, assuming an every Sunday preaching responsibility, and I have only one week to pull it together.

On the Sunday afternoon the week before, I print out and prayerfully read the Scripture passages from the lectionary for the next Sunday. This is the beginning of time set aside each day through the week for “sermonizing”. In those days I move through working with commentaries and doing some exegesis; scribbling notes on a wide variety of pertinent ideas; jotting possible sermon titles; trying to put in a sentence or two the message of the sermon; noting connections from real-life events to the Scripture; developing an outline of the sermon with major points and subheadings and finalizing the title.

Starting the first Sunday afternoon with the reading of the texts, there is an almost constant thinking about the sermon, looking for connections, some word or event that will illustrate and enlighten. There’s a lot of meditation and contemplation that goes into a sermon. Someone once noted how hard it is to convince your spouse that you’re working when you’re standing there looking out the window. But sometimes that’s the most productive work.

Friday morning, when I’m fresh, I sit at the computer and, with a deep breath and a prayer, I have a go at it. I’m often surprised when what I come up with is not exactly what I planned—I like to think the Spirit is meddling and nudging me in better directions.

The rest of Friday and all day Saturday, I try to stay away from the sermon until Saturday evening. It gives me a chance to get some distance on what I’ve written, enabling me to see it and “listen” to it more objectively, more like someone in the pews might.

Saturday night I turn to my editor-in-chief, my wife, to give it a going over. She’s great at spotting wordy language and fancy words nobody but me would use. She’ll also tell me what’s weak or sloppy. Then I do another rewrite. Even if she has no suggestions or corrections, I’ll go through it again and rewrite.

Sunday morning, I’m up early to go through it again and rewrite if necessary before I leave for church. I will get there with time to spare for going through the manuscript a final time to hear how it sounds, and make marks in red ink accordingly.

Now, you understand that this is the plan for me. Of necessity, the agenda may be compressed. Still this kind of schedule sets a target for me to aim at. I know it’s only one way to approach the preacher’s task, and I’d be interested in seeing what works for others.

So how do you prepare to preach? What works for you? What doesn’t work? And if you’re not a preacher, why not talk to your preacher about his or her process?


  1. As a musician who often needs 6 weeks to prepare the music with volunteer musicians for any one service, I want to applaud Don for his use of the lectionary. Though a musician and preacher are working on our "sermons" in parallel paths, in this way we are using the same foundations in the lections. One minister I know says the anthem is the second sermon in that it is often the text from one of the Scriptures set to music. The hymns carry those texts into the mouths and hearts of the people through tunes that help to recall the texts. So thanks to all preachers who use the lectionary, allowing their musicians to choose hymns, anthems and service music to coordinate with the spoken word.

  2. You're right, Charlotte. Use of the lectionary is a definite aid to musician-preacher coordination. In the two churches where I substitute most often, the lectionary is customarily employed. I've come to know the musicians and they are always, as you say, already on parallel tracks, so that when we confer, it's an easy move to be together. And if for some reason I depart from the lectionary, they are more than willing and able to move with me. Such cooperation and coordination musically, liturgically and homiletically, is just plain wonderful.


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