If you’re a pastor, then you have inevitably been asked “what do you do all week?” Besides all the meetings, counseling, coaching, visiting and administrative stuff, we still must spend time preparing for a message each week. And in today’s society, everyone expects the message to be inspiring, motivating, funny, and challenging. I wanted to share a little about my planning and preparation process. I don’t know if it will help anyone, but this is how I get ready for Sunday each week. For me, this process typically takes 10 to 20 hours each week, depending on how much research I’ve done in advance.
And before we begin, the most important thing for any pastor is to stay in God’s Word. If you want to share a fresh message from God each week, you must hear from God and have the courage to share whatever God tells you.
Picking a topic
I like to preach in series. When you plan for 4 to 6 weeks at a time, it keeps you from trying to say too much each week. I typically get ideas for sermon series from books I’m reading, from Bible passages that speak to me, and from messages and series that other churches have done. At Cornerstone, we typically rotate between topical series and book series. We like to mix things up to keep sermons from becoming too predictable and boring. Once the series are picked, they are shared with the elders and with the worship team. Currently, we have outlined our series through the first of next year, which is about 5 to 6 months out.
This is where it all begins. I start by reading Bible passages that communicate the principle or truth that we want to convey. I’ll read through several versions and start highlighting key words and phrases. I rely heavily on Evernote to collect and organize my research notes. For key words, I’ll do word studies so that I can understand the context and meaning of the original text. After this is done, it’s time to read through different commentaries to gain insight about each passage. I’ll also read other books that may help me understand concepts or gain additional insight.
This is the point where the message starts taking shape. I’ll read back through my research notes and start organizing my key thoughts. From this, I will determine the main points of the sermon and start forming them into a logical progression. My brain is really wired to keep things in logical order. I have to understand how all the points and thoughts tie together. If not, I feel like I just ramble. Once the main points are written out, I try to write my opening, closing, and transition statements. These will set the tone of the message and determine what I really want to focus on.
Adding Creative Elements
By this time, I pretty much know the direction and tone of the message. I like to start adding in personal illustrations and ideas that others have shared with me. I prefer illustrations from the real world instead of illustrations from books or guys that lived hundreds of years ago. By sharing stories from my life, I feel that I am able to let people know that I am not a super preacher man. I’m a real person, with struggles and successes, and I try to give people a glimpse into my life. I’m also talking with the worship team thinking through the flow of the entire service. If we can use a video to help communicate the truth, then we will add it in. But I don’t want to use a video just because it is funny or creative. The first week of any new series is tough, because we’re finishing up all the sermon graphics used on the screens, in the bulletin, and on the web.
My biggest problem each week is that I end up with too much information. So the last thing I do is go back through the progression and organization of the sermon and cut out anything that takes people’s focus away from Christ. This is tough, because it may mean taking out something that I really felt strongly about in the beginning of the process. It also helps focus the message on the main point I want to share each week.
The last step is to boldly proclaim the message that God has given you. And it may even change while you are preaching. If you are prepared, the Holy Spirit can and will change your message on occasion to bring out information that you may have left out. It’s an awesome feeling to see God’s Word transform lives. And for the pastors out there reading this, don’t take lightly your responsibility to proclaim and preach the Gospel. Be bold, be courageous, and be obedient!