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Can You Write a Sermon Down?

OK, let’s get into some sermon philosophy. The question for today, “Can you write a sermon down?”

You may think so, but I am not talking about whether to use a manuscript in preaching.

No, this question gets at a fundamental idea that I hope can help your preaching. That idea is that preachers do not write down a sermon. They write down ideas and thoughts to help them in the sermon moment. Some preachers write down everything they will say, but that is still not a sermon until you are in the preached moment when the sermon is delivered.

Sermon More Than Words

We must remember that the sermon encompasses everything we say, but it also includes things that we do not say. It also includes things that we imply. It includes the head movement or smile at just the correct time. It includes the all of the mannerisms of the preacher. It includes the shout of the preacher as the preacher gets excited about the point.

So even if the preacher writes down everything that the preacher will say with her or his mouth, that preacher is still not writing down everything the people will experience during the sermon.

People Are Sermon Helpers

But it ain’t just the preacher who is involved in the sermon moment. The people are also helpers in the preaching moment. Now I always talk about how the people should help us in preparation, but this is different, I am talking about the people helping us in the preached moment.

Some preachers ignore the people, while others probably give undue influence to the people in attempts to extract a “shout.” But be that as it may, the people help craft the sermon during the sermon event.

A congregational look of not understanding the point can cause the preacher to veer into more explanation of a point than the preacher planned. The death of a mother in the church might change the orientation of the preacher to the text under consideration. If not that, it might at least change the illustrations the preacher planned. Maybe you were going to use death as a metahpor and now you use a different metaphor, or maybe you apply the metaphor differently, or maybe you just slightly change it. Even if the meathpor is unchanged from the plan, the people may hear it differently because of the experience that has just happened this week.

Yes the people are invovled in the preaching event. Whether it is in shouting, crying, or even silently contemplating (and then living during the week) the point of the sermon.

You Need Supernatural Help As Well

The Holy Spirit also changes us up as well. How many of you have been preaching and then a point that you never considered comes to mind? The point fits better than what you planned to say. The Holy Ghost is talking to you. Always be open to what the Holy Ghost is saying to you.

Now I can hear someone saying that this could lead to preaching foolishness in the pulpit. And that is true. A preacher must have prepared adequately before the preacher can hear that voice and know that it is in line with the text under consideration. But if you have prepared then you should be able to know if the thought is in line with the text and the sermon and the event.

Why Does This Matter

Well we must recognize that our sermon is a living thing that happens at the intersection of the preacher, people, and Holy Ghost. It is a partnership between the three.

As we put our sermons together, let us remember that we must still be open to the leadings of the Spirit. We should also remember to be open to receiving the help of the congregation. The sermon is not something you write out, it is something that is experienced with and through the people of God as enlightened by God’s Spirit.

And when God shows up, or the people help you in a special way, remember to capture that in your notes before filing the sermon notes away. So the next time you preach the sermon, you can be enlightened by what happened on this day.

Should I Write a Draft of my Sermon?

Preachers who preach from a full manuscript have no choice but to answer yes to the question. However what about those of us who preach from an outline or from even fewer notes? Must we prepare a full manuscript? This is a good question. I think that the benefits of preparing a full manuscript whether you use it or not far outweigh the liabilities. I want to describe a few of the benefits.

You Spend More Time on Rhetoric

When you prepare a manuscript, you have a tendency to spend more time thinking about the “words” that will be used in the sermon. When I preach from a sparse outline, I often spend less time thinking about the words I will use. I think about the concepts that I will attempt to convey. Now some would argue that this is the point. When we spend less time brooding on the words that will be used, we have a tendency to exhibit more passion in the sermon. However, rhetoric is important and I think that the preacher should spend some time thinking about what words are best to convey the concepts of the sermon.

You Spend More Time on the Theology

Theoretically, if you are not preparing the manuscript, you can spend more time thinking about your theology and perhaps the theology in the sermon. However, what often happens is that certain areas of “conventional wisdom” can more easily seep into our sermon when we don’t truly think through the implications of our theology for our sermon. When you prepare a manuscript you are sitting there looking at your theology in the sermon and thus it requires you to more fully engage it. This is important for we don’t want to say anything about God or truth that is not true.

You Have some Exposure to the Whole Sermon

Instead of only focusing on certain aspects of the sermon, you must be exposed to the whole thing when you prepare a full manuscript. There are times I will simply write down something like “Going to Sunnydale Story” in my notes for preaching. Because I know the story so well, I can simply write that down and save time. However, when you do that, you spend less time thinking about how the story fits into your sermon. You spend less time thinking about what aspects of the story to emphasize and what parts to leave out. Solid preaching requires adequate thought about every portion of the sermon.

Provides Something Substantial for Your Archives

This is a biggie. When you want to know what you preached last year, do you go to a piece of paper with three lines scribbled on it, or a full manuscript? A full manuscript allows you to really look at your text choices. You can look at what stories are commonly used in your sermons. You can analyze your sermons in a much deeper way. Finally, one can easily take each sermon and turn them into a chapter for a future book.

It Tends to Lengthen Preparation Time

Yes this is one of its liabilities, but it is really a great benefit. I have gone back and forth on this, but let us assume that you are preaching to 100 people for 30 minutes. That is 50 hours of all of your congregante’s time. Are you spending enough time on your preparation? Are those 50 hours being wasted in your church? Preparing a manuscript will help to push you towards answering this question in the negative. Preparing a manuscript takes time, but the benefits are too great to ignore.

Sermon Prep in the Shower

You know what….

I have said this before…

But my sermon prep happens literally…


Sometimes I am practicing the sermon while driving to work…

Yep…If you drive by me, you will see me in there preaching….

No one really thinks about it, I assume, because everyone is talking on phones with Bluetooth devices anyway…

So you know, I don’t look out of the ordinary…

But…I go through my sermons while driving.

Today, I was in the shower…

Yep…in the shower…

And I started preaching a sermon I was working on…

And God gave me something.

Something that fit in perfectly…

May be an illustration…

May be a conlcusion….

May be something else…

But God gives me something…and sometimes it is so good that I have to go grab some paper right then to write it down. why am I telling you this? I said yesterday….you need to put some “TIME” in your preparation…

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