Leadership

How to Write a Sermon: A Simple Step-by-Step Guide

Seasoned pastor? Young preacher? Here's a simple step-by-stepy guide on how to write a sermon.

Preaching every week is challenging.

On average, it takes 10 to 18 hours to prepare your sermon for preaching. If you’re a full-time pastor, there’s a good chance you’re spending between 400 to 720 hours per year in sermon preparation. In other words, you’ll spend nearly 17 to 30 days in preparation.

 

If you’re a seasoned pastor, you probably have your own approach and process. But if you’re green behind the ears (new to preaching), it’s a good idea to see how to write a sermon and a sermon outline and practice that process several times. Over time, you'll naturally iterate that process to fit your personality and way of thinking.

And that's the point here.

Below is a simple step-by-step process we use to teach pastors and budding preachers how to write a sermon. In this post, we’re going to break down the following steps:

  1. Strategy
  2. Study
  3. Sticky
  4. Style
  5. Solidify
  6. Sabbath
  7. Say
  8. Speak

Use these basic steps to writing a sermon as checkpoints for you in your sermon preparation. Work through our process and then make it your own as you write more and more sermons.

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If you follow this process, you'll come out with a biblical and memorable message from God's word.

Strategy

One of the most helpful things you can do as a preacher is to get ahead in your sermon preparation. Instead of waking up on Monday trying to figure out what you’re going to preach on  Sunday, plan your sermons out at least a month in advance (or more if possible).

Strategizing what you’re going to preach is one of the most transformative things you can do for your preaching.

Strategizing will allow you to have a big picture of what your preaching will probably look like for the month, the quarter, six months, or a year. I emphasize "probably" because things happen and sometimes God will lead you in a different direction as a new series approaches.

So one month to a year before you preach, you’ll want to focus on these three big things:

  1. Write down the name of the sermon series your  sermon is a part of
  2. Choose your biblical passage
  3. Work through and write down the big idea of the biblical passage

Writing a sermon from this starting point rather than from scratch is a big difference maker. So work hard to strategize and get ahead.

Now, as for the rest of the process, they’re broken down into a 7-day process. If this process doesn’t jive with your schedule, what you can do is add the steps together. For example, you can knock out days 1-3 at whatever time you set aside to write your sermon.

Day 1: Study

Goal: Understand the biblical passage and be able to recognize its nuances so that you can handle God's word well.

Step 1: Personal study

Pull out your Bible and read through the biblical passage multiple times. You want to get a good feel for what it's saying.

Then, you need to identify, once again, the big idea of the biblical passage by asking these questions:

  • Does it line up with what you wrote down a month to a year ago?
  • Are you seeing something different now?

It's also a great idea to read the surrounding textual context. If you’re reading an epistle or shorter book of the Bible, read the entire thing. If you’re reading from a more extensive book of the Bible, consider reading the one or two chapters before that passage and the one to two chapters after that passage.

By doing this, you’ll have a better understanding of the flow of the particular biblical passage you're preaching on.

Step 2: Formal study

What have others said about the biblical passage you picked?

In this step, you’ll need to consult things like:

  1. Original language
  2. Commentaries
  3. Books
  4. Sermons
  5. Articles

When you consult these various tools, it's going to be essential to write down your findings.

Now, you likely won't use everything you learn, but all the learnings you gain will help build into your mind and heart the meaning of the text.

Step 3: Finalize the "big idea" of the passage

As you ’ve studied the text in more detail, has the big idea of the passage changed from what you wrote down?

It may not change much, but is there a better way to say it? Is there a slightly different direction it needs to take?

A "big idea" example

From Luke 22:39-62:
Big idea: Jesus relied on God's strength as he faced the cross, allowing the same disciples who abandoned him to later be courageous in the face of death.

Day 2: Sticky

Goal: Make the big idea memorable so that it sticks with your congregation.

Step 1: Create a "sticky statement"

Take your big idea and write it in a way that is memorable. You want your big idea to stick with your congregation. So you need to ask yourself, “How can I say this in a way so that people can remember it on Monday and moving forward?”

As I've written in another article, here are some strategies you  can employ to make a statement stick with your hearers:

  • Make it rhyme. “There’s no win in comparison.” – Andy Stanley
  • Or make it alliterated. “If you want your life to count, be gripped by the God of grace.” – from a sermon I preached on single-mindedness
  • Or make it echo. “You are of infinite worth to the infinite God.” – from a sermon I preached on the doctrine of humanity
  • Or make it a metaphor. “The root of murder is anger. Only God can uproot it from our hearts.” – from a sermon I preached on the commandment, do not murder
  • Or make it contrast. “A life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone.” – Carey Nieuwhof

Step 2: Write down your end goal

Writing down your end goal is simply answering the question, “What should the congregation do in response to this sermon?”

The key here is to make it precise, make it clear, and make it applicable.

Step 3: Outline your sermon

Now that you have the big pieces to your sermon, you can start writing a sermon outline.

When it comes to writing a sermon outline, there are many options you can adopt. The key is to figure out what outlining method works best for you. No matter what strategy you adopt, you'll want to write down a single sentence that summarizes what each section will be about.

Here are some examples of a sermon outline method:

Traditional 3-Point Sermon Template from Sermonary:

“Own the Vision,” a 3-point sermon outline from Ministry Pass:

Click here to download the entire sermon outline

From Matt Capps, senior pastor of Fairview Baptist Church:

Day 3: Style

Goal: Add flavor to the sermon and fill in the outline.

Step 1: Introduction and conclusion

How your sermon begins is crucial.

In the first few minutes, people will decide whether or not they are going to jump on the train. So we want to ask the question, “Why do they need to listen?”

Because here's the thing:

They're wondering why they need to listen to what you're about to say.

Sure, some people will listen because it's a sermon. But not everyone will automatically track with you.

Everyone has a lot of things on their mind that they often bring to the sermon. And you’re competing with those things. So you must make the most of those first few minutes.

Likewise, the conclusion is close behind on the importance scale. If you don't arrive at the next train station intact, your congregation won't get to where you want to take them.

If people don't know what they need to do, you haven't preached a good sermon. So you need to make clear in the conclusion the thing everyone ought to do in response to what has been said.

Writing a sermon well means you know where you’re starting and where you’re going. You have to make the most of the first few minutes and the last few minutes.

Step 2: Illustrations

Throughout this process, some illustrations have probably come to mind. Plug those into the outline.

If you need more sermon illustrations, check out our library of sermon illustrations.

Step 3: Fill out the outline

Here you need to fill in the rest of your sermon outline.

Don't let any part go untouched.

Fill it all in from introduction to conclusion.

Day 4: Solidify

Goal: Touch up your sermon.

Depending on how much progress has been made up to this point, day four may be an easy day of sermon preparation.

Step 1: Finish illustrations

Maybe you've thought of another illustration to plug in, or you need to find another one to plug into your outline.

Do that now.

Step 2: Finish sermon content

You’ll need to do two things:

  1. Finish filling in your sermon outline if needed
  2. Go over your  sermon outline and answer the following questions:
  3. Is the "big idea" adequately communicated?
  4. Is the message practical?
  5. Is the message useful?
  6. Will it grab people's attention?

Day 5: Sabbath

Goal: Take a break from sermon preparation.

On Day 5, let your sermon simmer and don't revisit it. Take the day off from sermon preparation.

It's best if this is the same day as your day off. This day is just as important to writing a sermon as the day we began. Trust God with the work that has already been done, understanding that he'll do far more than we can do.

Day 6: Say

Goal: Practice preaching your sermon.

This is a step that will likely feel awkward the first few times you do it, but it can make all the difference in preaching a compelling, memorable sermon or preaching a dud.

As you go through it, you'll want to take notes on what worked and what you need to change.

Day 7: Speak

Goal: Preach the word!

Over to you

As I mentioned above, there are a variety of ways you can write a sermon and write a sermon outline. What we provided for you here is a process we’ve found helpful in teaching pastors and people interested in preaching how to prepare for their sermon.

How do you write a sermon? What steps work the best for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.

Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Justin Trapp. Justin is the co-founder of Sermonary.

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How to Write a Sermon: A Simple Step-by-Step Guide