About 150 sermons into the game, here are some humble insights into this mysterious process.
1. Decide on a scripture. Every Sunday morning message is rooted in the Bible. A specific passage, rarely more than 5 verses, serves as the anchoring concept. I know I’m going to be able to preach a particular text because I hear the ring of truth in it. It really is like a little psychic bell or clicking that goes off in my head. Sam Proctor (among the best of the old dead black preachers) called it “the certain sound of the trumpet.” Hearing it takes away the butterflies of public speaking because it reassures you that God is on the throne.
2. Explore the meaning of the text to discover its significance and relevance. This is also referred to as exegesis. I put pen to paper to answer some or all of the following questions and more: Why are these verses ringing bells in my head? Have I ever heard this scripture before? What does it make me think of? What does it say in a nutshell? How do people feel about this one? Just writing all I can consulting only myself and the biblical passage.
3. Dictionary.com. I was advised to find the dictionary definition for every word in the passage. Not always feasible, but we don’t know some words as well as we think we do. Getting into the dictionary just helps you understand what you’re going to be talking about better–and that’s good.
4. Check commentaries. More exegesis, but I think up as many insights as possible myself first, then read what everyone else has to say. I like the Interpreter’s Bible. I also check out preceptaustin.org, the The Urantia Book Paramony, and anything else I can find in my study that relates to the chosen verses. When, where, why and by whom was it written? Got to check the passage in Hebrew or Greek at scripture4all.org, a complete interlinear translation you’ll get something out of whether or not you read Hebrew or Greek. I write down everything that seems interesting, knowing that I won’t use it all in the sermon. There are many definitions for what a sermon is. One calls it “the fruit of exegesis.”
5. Figure out what I’m preaching about. Not the same thing as deciding on a scripture. You’re not preaching about John 3:16–you’re preaching about how much God loves the world or about how we never really die. What are you preaching about? Sometimes you know in the first 30 seconds, sometimes you have to patiently pray your way into it. What are you preaching about? Scary question, but you must be able to answer it elevator pitch style.
6. Look for examples in nature and media. Facebook friends’ status updates, a mall food court, a walk around the block, a dog’s reaction to meeting other dog’s, the pain of dieting, your last argument, an eerie coincidence, good performance art, childhood memories, your last plane ride. When you know what you’re preaching about and keep it at the top of mind, ideas come a-flooding from all angles.
7.Talk to people about it. Work the truths and stories into regular conversation. Find people who appreciate preaching and bounce sermon ideas off ofthem–when you start talking to people who appreciate preaching about your ideas, they usually end up giving you more good ideas to preach. Write them down no matter where you are because you won’t remember them all.
8. Compile all notes. I know for myself that 2 pages of single-spaced notes is enough. More is OK, less than a page and a half of notes is not enough for me, repeat steps 2 through 7 until you’ve done sufficient exploration of a given text.
That’s about right.
9. Number 9 should have been number 1 to me: pray and meditate. Prayer is the way to see and know the text, the community, yourself, and God ever more authentically. How else can you hope to speak the truth? Meditation does a lot of things as well. One benefit of meditation is that it allows me to intensify the intention behind the preaching. If I aim to be inspirational, I can be more inspirational by meditating on it. If I need to provide healing to listeners, my words become more healing through healing meditation. The more prayer and meditation, the better the sermon–it’s at the beginning, middle and end of the process.
10.Type out a final draft. Whether you work from a manuscript, extemporaneously, off an outline, or without notes, I think it’s good to have the key points of the sermon typed and saved/emailed to myself for easy reference later.
11. Rehearse. I’m eternally grateful I was exposed to Linklater’s freeing the natural voice techniques. The more rehearsal, the better. Also important to be acquainted with the ideas you are preparing to espouse. The more I rehearse, the more excited I get about the preaching moment.
You actually read that to the bottom? You probably need to be preaching. Let me know how I can help.