Chris Crain, DOM
Saint Clair Baptist Association
Adapted from The Rocket Co.
Please keep in mind, all of this information may not apply to your particular church context. Likewise, God may have gifted and equipped you to address preaching in a different way. We may agree that preaching by the power of the Holy Spirit from the inerrant Word is the way God has chosen to communicate the Gospel and edify the local church.
Thank you for reading!
Chris Crain, Director of Missions
SERMON PLANNING PHILOSOPHY
The Holy Spirit can work in advance, and He can work on the spur of the moment. The book of Proverbs is filled with advice about planning ahead, as well as trusting in the Lord, knowing that nothing can thwart his plans. Proverbs 20:18 encourages us to make plans and seek advice, while Proverbs 19:21 says that no matter our plans, the purposes of the Lord will stand. There is a healthy tension between planning ahead and trusting the Lord. Perhaps the cliché advice to “plan like it depends on you and pray like it depends on God” is appropriate here.
Because we try to integrate songs, sets, and other thematic elements, there is a value in having message content created sooner rather than later. Effective sermon planning can lead to more effective service planning.
As a pastor, one of my most important tasks is hearing from God. This includes hearing from God about sermon topics, sermon series, and message content. Furthermore, we cannot simply teach what people want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3), but we must teach what they need to hear.
In September, we survey the congregation to ask about particular sermon topics. I also spend time in personal prayer and thought, asking the question, “What does God want us to teach this next year?” In October, a small group of people goes away on a sermon planning retreat. We use the result of the survey, a document called Pastor’s Teaching Priorities and our own ideas to generate a teaching calendar for the following year.
This teaching calendar is a guide, and it is adjusted during the year based on the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the needs of the congregation. The teaching calendar should reflect:
Sermon planning should also consider seasons and seasons of growth. Spring is a growth season, while things remain alive but dormant in the winter. And different seasons evoke different feelings. Summer is laid back. Fall is for football. In the same way, our church has seasons. Two of our prime growth seasons are the first of the year (January) and back to school (August to Labor Day).
We should also consider how series work together. For example, before a key invite series which may be built around a felt need and combined with heavy advertising, it is helpful to do a series on purpose or the value of inviting. We should follow a series that attracts a lot of guests with a series on spiritual growth.
During the sermon planning retreat, we put each series on the calendar, noting key days like Easter Weekend and key church events like Baptism. We finish with some brainstorming on specific topics for each series.
SERMON WRITING PHILOSOPHY
Every weekend service includes a message or a sermon. The Gospels include several of the sermons of Jesus including the famous “sermon on the mount.” When Paul visited a city, he often preached from the Scriptures to the Jews in the temple and reasoned with Greeks in the marketplace. Throughout church history, the sermon has been the centerpiece of the church service.
I write and deliver simple sermons that are Biblically-based with relevant application, delivered with authenticity and humor, that lay out a clear action step.
1. BIBLICALLY-BASED. What God says matters more than what we think, so every sermon must be based on the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” It is hearing and applying the Word of God that leads to life transformation. The Bible is the inspired Word of God – not a sermon or an illustration. A sermon is not telling people what they want to hear, but explaining the Words of God that they need to hear (2 Timothy 4:3).
When preparing a message, always start with the key passage. Exegete and study the passages and prepare notes on the text itself. Examine supplemental passages where necessary. A sermon is born in the preacher’s heart out of the text and ultimately comes from God. We do not teach sermons because we found a cool graphic or another church made the resources available online. As I study and prepare, I ask God for wisdom and direction and let the Holy Spirit guide.
Then move to Bible commentaries and books continuing to build a document that explains the meaning of the text on a topic. Then utilize other sermons and web-based content. In this final phase, I’m often looking for stories, illustrations and “hooks.”
As was the pattern with Paul’s writings, he began with the Gospel and then moved to the application. For example, chapters 1-3 in Ephesians focused on the position of the believer in relation to the gospel, then chapters 4-6 discuss the application of the Gospel, namely relationships, unity and Christian living.
Sermons that are true to the Bible require a great deal of preparation and study, so it is best to begin many weeks out. You do not have to preach through a book of the Bible to preach a Biblical sermon. Topics sermons should focus on one specific passage and use supplemental passages where necessary. Sermons do not always have, to BEGIN with the text, but they must center on the text. For example, when speaking to a Jewish audience, Paul began the Hebrew Scriptures. When speaking to a pagan culture at Mars Hill, he didn’t begin with the Scripture but quoted secular poets and philosophers. However, both messages could be considered Gospel-focused and Scripture-centered.
2. WITH RELEVANT APPLICATION. We do not have to make the Bible relevant, it is relevant. Applications should be made to three groups of people. First, consider the needs of Christ-followers who are looking to honor God. Secondly, apply the passage to those who are not Christians. Finally, there are self-righteous, older-brother Christians who claim Christ but do not honor Him with their lives.
We should use current events and stories to illustrate the truth. Movie clips, props, and illustrations can be useful tools in helping apply the scripture. Jesus once took his disciples on a 30-mile journey to Caesarea to teach a lesson. He used a fig tree on the side of the road to make a point. The relevant application often calls for creativity, and I’m always looking for ways to illustrate a truth in a way that connects with where people live. People need to understand how the Gospel affects their entire lives – relationships, finances, etc.
The application addresses the WHY behind the WHAT – why do people need to know this? How does it matter to their lives? The application should be broad, not necessarily in every sermon, but across multiple sermons. Paul said, “I become all things to all people” (I Corinthians 9:22).
3. CLEAR ACTION STEP. Effective sermons lead to specific applications. In preparation, always ask, “What do we want people to DO as a result of hearing this sermon?” In many cases, (calling for people to give their shoes off their feet), the action step may be bold. But in other cases, it could be simple (begin reading the Bible this week or go on a date with your spouse). James 2:17 says “faith without action is dead.”
Just like meetings that do not include action steps tend to waste people’s time, so do sermons that do not call people to action. It’s like running back a kickoff and stopping at the 10-yard-line.
When Peter was finished preaching in Acts 2, the people responded, “What do we do.” Peter then told them to repent and be baptized – a clear action step.
In many cases, an action step for those who do not know Christ will be the opportunity to trust Christ for salvation. Not every sermon needs to end with a public call for faith (the sermon on the mount did not end with a prayer of repentance), but many should. There is no prescription in the Bible for how often sermons should include public invitations, so I trust the leading of the Holy Spirit.
4. DELIVERED WITH AUTHENTICITY. Authentic delivery of a sermon begins from understanding one’s personality and style. Preachers that attempt to preach like someone else will never connect as well. Peter’s sermons sound like Peter’s and Paul had a distinctive style. Authenticity and humor often lead to interesting messages, and interesting messages are usually more effective.
Authentic delivery requires preparation, as a sermon must be lived before it can be preached. Typically, messages are completely finished on Monday, so that there are several days to meditate on the completed message before delivering.
In the 21st century, humor is a common language that conveys authenticity. People appreciate sermons that do not look down on them but engage them. Humor lowers people defenses. Funny stories and statements can pepper a sermon with spice and make it memorable.
5. SIMPLE. We can teach Biblical theology without confusing people with theological language. It’s always appropriate to use a theological word as long as it is explained simply, in a way that people can understand. I prefer simple language over heavy oratory. A good teacher knows how to make a complex thing simple, and a good preacher must take the “mystery” of the Gospel and explain it in a way that connects with people.
I Corinthians 1:17 says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ is emptied of its power.”
May times, people answer a difficult question with many words but without saying anything. Simple answers are often shorter answers. I usually preach about 35-40 minutes to the people. We ask guest speakers who do not have the teaching relationship with the congregation to teach for 30 minutes. In my opinion, most people should not teach longer than this. The attention span of our society is getting collectively shorter. This means that I must develop the skill to match the will.
A good sermon should have one memorable point or statement that is repeated several times throughout the message. There may be a few related points in a message, but there should be one driving idea, a “twitterable” big idea.
HOW TO WRITE A SERMON
A SIMPLE SERMON OUTLINE
SERIES LAUNCH CHECKLIST: Getting the Word Out
Three Weeks Before:
Two Weeks Before: