Have you ever wondered how a sermon comes to be? If you were to ask 5 pastors about how they go about writing their sermons, you would likely get about 8 different answers. The process is different for each, but to give you, my dear reader a little window into my own process I thought I would put down how the sermon you hear on Sunday morning has come about.
1. The process begins weeks in advance when I look over the big picture. What are the readings for the year, the season, the next few weeks. Is there a progression? What is the shape of the forrest, so to speak? Are we diving into Jesus Parables? Will the Epistle reading go “continuously” (sort of) through one Epistle? Is there an overarching theme .
2. To help with the first, I look at the “Propers” in the service, that is the prayers (or Collects), the proper preface, the Gradual, Introit, Tract, and Verse. Sometimes these can give clues as the Church Year flows from one season to another.
3. A couple weeks out I start jotting down some more specific ideas on the text I am preaching on, narrowing down one particular aspect, one way in this text uniquely preaches the Gospel.
4. The hard/fun part – translation (it’s only hard because I’m still not the best at translation). I think this is especially important. Nuances in the Greek and Hebrew sometimes just don’t translate well. As this is done I also see a bit closer how the text is structured, grammar and rhetoric often really do drive what the text is saying and likewise help shape the sermon.
5. Visitation. Visiting with people, both in and outside the congregation, hearing what is going on in people’s lives, their hurts, their joys and applying God’s word to those situations is invaluable.
6. Study. Look at commentaries and pastors from the early Church and from Lutherans in the past, how have they preached this text?
7. Iron sharpens iron. Hashing out ideas. Sometimes it can be throwing things up against the wall and seeing what sticks. This is where a lot of cutting takes place. A text may present 15 different directions, 15 ways to preach that one Gospel, the difficult thing is to stay on track. Hearing from someone else that an idea/paragraph does or does not help keep things on track is very helpful. Here also useful illustrations may be gained, non-useful illustrations get put aside.
8. Preaching the text to yourself. Really this has been happening throughout the week/weeks. As it comes to Wednesday and Thursday the focus becomes more sharp (at least that’s the hope). Friday and Saturday morning the sermon is still in the back of my mind as I spend time with my family.
9. Polishing. Sometimes a sermon is ready to go on Thursday… but that is rare. Saturday night and/or Sunday early in the morning things get tweaked (and sometimes by “tweaked” I mean overhauled), especially based on reflection as I let the sermon “breathe” so to speak over the last few days. This is not to say that I consider my sermon delivery highly “polished”, and this is somewhat intentional, I want my sermons to sound much the same way as how I would speak to you.
10. Preach the sermon. I have been living and breathing the text that I am preaching now for at least a week. This is what you hear.