Why I Changed How I Prepare Sermons

Why I Changed How I Prepare Sermons

I’ve been preaching since I was 13 years old. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. While, I am somewhat young to be the senior pastor who is preparing sermons on a weekly basis, I have been doing this for quite awhile. And as with any task that is done on a regular basis, I’ve developed a lot of habits. Some of these habits are good and some are…not so good. This coming Sunday I will be finishing my sermon series in Ephesians. The last 6 months in Ephesians has been a great learning experience for both my congregation and myself. 

I have learned quite a bit about the things that I believe I do well when exegeting God’s Word and I have also discovered some of my weak areas in my preaching. The bad habits that I have picked up since I was 13 are somewhat embarrassing to admit, but once I accepted these, I was able to correct some of my errors and I believe I’m improving. 

What are those bad habits?

I found that the writing of my sermons were becoming too reliant on the grammatical structure and neglecting the overall meaning of the text. It’s not that I was forgetting the big idea, but that I wasn’t communicating enough how that big idea impacts the smaller attributes of the text. I also found that I was bound to my notes. Even though I had researched  and studied the text deeper than most do, I was so fearful that I would get something wrong. I didn’t want to stumble in my words or forget anything that I was nearly reading my notes. 

I also discovered just how far back some of my weaknesses go. I discovered that I was writing my sermon notes as if some other person were going to critique it. Even though my notes, are just for me, I found myself trying to write my sermon like how my childhood pastor wrote his sermons, or how my professors in college wrote their sermons. And it just wasn’t working for me. 

So what did I do to change?

I began writing my sermons completely different. This was not an easy process by the way. It’s hard to break old habits and especially ones that have been drilled into you by others. I have begun writing my sermons with my church and myself as the focus. I’m not preaching to some theological institution or some other theologian, I’m preaching to myself and my church. So I’m not trying to find that theological debate within the passage and define my arguments, I’m thinking of how I can apply this passage to my context within my church. Once I began thinking like this, it changed how I write my sermons. I do not need to write within the rules of always having three points, or always have at least two sub-points, because Scripture isn’t written like that! Sometimes sermons will be one big long point, and that’s ok, if you get the meaning of the text. 

To help me in the pulpit, I began writing my sermon notes completely different as well. Instead of doing everything out of Logos and writing it all on my computer in a very streamlined  and rushed format. I began giving space to my thoughts by simply writing notes in a notepad about the passage itself first, and then looking through commentaries, and the original languages. I gave myself some breathing room, and just wrote down notes. From there, with notes already made, I begin writing my sermon outline in a Molekine while furthering my study, and then once I have studied the passage thoroughly the final outline is written on one page in my Leuchttrum1917 making special attention to write what I call “Gospel-phrases.” These are not simply pithy statements, but core truths of the text that can be easily remembered when myself and my congregants think about the sermon. These notes, are not for anyone, but me. They are to help me articulate what I have learned about the text during the week. I scan that one page and put that copy in my Bible when I go up and preach. 

I’m not done.

I’m still learning, I’m far from being the preacher I believe Jesus wants me to be, but I am striving toward that goal. I know I’m not the only preacher who has ever had to radically change how they prepare their sermons, so if there’s one thing that I would say to those who are knowing they need to change their patterns in preaching is to be humble. What’s more important? God’s Word being accurately and practically taught or your ego and convenience?

– Dean