Delivering a sermon, especially if you have never done it before, can feel daunting. Of course, speaking in front of a congregation (or any public speaking) scary. However, it can also feel like there is added pressure during a sermon. That's because you're being called to deliver words that are relevant, meaningful, profound—but also engaging. If you are new to sermon-writing, but you are planning to give a talk to a congregation soon, the following guide may help. The easy step-by-step instructions can help break down and simplify the process of writing a sermon. Follow them, get your talk written, then practice your delivery. In no time you'll be used to delivering words that move congregants and teach important lessons.
Get to Know the Passage You'll Be Focusing Your Sermon On
Once you know what passage your sermon will be on, get to know that passage well. Spend some time sitting with the passage, reading it both to yourself and out loud. Reading the passage silently and aloud can help you get familiar with it, internalize it, and understand what it means to you. Don't just spend time with the passage, though. You may consider reading the entire book of the Bible that the passage comes from. That way you can fully understand its context and its greater meaning in the larger arc of the Bible.
Do Some Outside Reading
Once you have explored the passage yourself, see what other thinkers and experts have to say about it. There are lots of places to find Biblical commentary to inform your sermon. You can rely on resources like books, publications like Christianity Today, or even other ministers you have access to. Getting other people's perspectives on the meaning of the passage can flesh yours out and make it richer.
Think About the Congregation or Audience
Think about who you are going to be delivering your sermon to. It's important to think about who will be taking in your words when you choose the angle of your sermon. After all, preaching to a youth group will be a very different experience than delivering a sermon to the entire congregation. Think about the knowledge level of your listeners, as well as their life experience. Also consider what types of topics and stories keep them engaged, and what lessons are most important for them to take away from the sermon. This will help you frame the message in your sermon and make sure you're choosing the right tone and language as you write.
Make Connections Between Life Today and the Passage
One of the keys to a sermon that moves is connecting its content or message to life today. While written in Biblical times, the Bible's words still serve to guide our lives and behavior today. Try writing a list of scenarios in the modern world to which the passage could apply, or takeaways that make sense in the context of today. This is one of the most important parts of the sermon writing process. It's what makes listening to the sermon meaningful for congregants.
Create the Sermon's Frame and Outline
Once you know what you're going to focus on within the talk (what the takeaway or main idea or lesson is), start working to frame the sermon. While sermons can take on many forms, they should each do three things: explain the passage, show it means in the world today, and then explain its lesson. Ryan Huguley, speaker, podcast host, and lead pastor at Ridgeline Church in Salt Lake City Utah, explains how he frames every sermon he gives to his church: “My outline changes week to week, but with each point I preach I’m seeking to do the same three things: 1) Interpretation 2) Illustration ( 3) Implication – explain what the text is saying, illustrate for clarity, and bring the text to bear on our lives. For me, this is the most difficult step. Once I have this in place the rest is merely discipline.”
Now is the most tedious part of writing your sermon: writing it. If you've framed and outlined before, this process shouldn't be too difficult. Give some meat to the bones of the sermon, then edit what you've got. Type your sermon out, then print it and practice reading it. Where you stumble or feel unsure when you read it aloud, go back and edit. Once you've read it and edited it, you're ready to deliver it.
Practice Delivering the Sermon
Print your sermon out on note cards. Then, practice reading it as if you were delivering it in church. You can reference your note cards if you need. While you practice delivering it, make notes on the sermon to help you remember things. For example, if you want to emphasize a certain word or phrase, highlight. Or, if you want to do a physical gesture while you speak, notate that in the sermon.
Consider Memorizing the Sermon
You may want to try to commit the sermon to memory. Practice reading the cards over and over and it will help you to commit it to memory as if it is the text of a script for a play. If you are not feeling confident when it comes time to deliver the sermon, you can bring the notecards with you. Try to reference them from time to time as needed, rather than just reading from them.
Deliver the Sermon
If you've followed the steps above, there's a good chance you have prepared an excellent sermon to deliver to your congregation. Once you've practiced it and familiarized yourself with the content and words, you'll be ready to deliver it with confidence and poise. Luckily, the process of writing a sermon is a formula that you can follow again and again. So, once you have written and delivered one, you know how to write another. Which means you can write and give sermons whenever offered the opportunity.