This week was going to be unique. My plan was to get my sermon outline done early. This would allow me to spend some more time with my family over the weekend. Amazingly, my outline did come together early. I went right to my PowerPoint and laid out the bulk of it by mid-week. "An easy week," I thought. I was wrong. I had forgotten the single most significant aspect of sermon preparation: the crucible.
I have never had a sermon come together absent of struggle. I can study, outline, and PowerPoint the heck out of a sermon. But, it never gets refined until the night before. Several times, I have finished a sermon early and tried to practice it. Thursday sermons are always flat and boring until Saturday night. Something happens Saturday at around 8:00pm. Intense desperation over the realization that I can't write good sermons leads to surrendered prayers.
There is something bout knowing that in a matter of hours 1,000 people will sit down to hear you preach a sermon that currently sounds like page 247 of the Lorain County Phone Book. They have taken time out of their week. They are hungry for truth. Mess it up, and you just wasted 1,000 hours of time that could have been spent doing anything else.
I'm not saying I'm not prepared. I'm saying that until the Holy Spirit shows up, a sermon is just words.
Putting hours of study and preparation into a sermon can give me the false sense that it is my sermon. I think God likes to remind me that I can't do anything without Him. That's why my sermons don't have any fire until Saturday night.
So, here is my process for putting together a sermon:
- Ask God to show me what He wants preached.
- Study the passage. This means reading it over and over until I'm soaked in it.
- Make observations. I create a list of things I see in the passage.
- Pray again that God leads me to the most important thing I'm supposed to preach.
- Identify the "Big Idea." I write down the one thing that I believe God wants me to communicate. People will only hear one point. Everything else is just sub-points.
- Pray again that God leads me to write the outline He wants.
- Create an outline. Big Idea + Observations=Outline. The Big Idea dictates how I organize m supporting points.
- Create a PowerPoint. The PowerPoint is the most important tool for organizing your presentation. It can make sense on paper without making sense coming out of your mouth. As I create every slide, I figure out what I am going to say or do to get me to the next slide.
- Practice the sermon out loud. I actually preach through my sermon (sometimes several times) until I feel confident about every point and transition. This is also the point when I feel like I have written the most boring sermon in history.
- Acknowledge that I do not know what I am doing and need God to breath into this sermon. This has never happened to me before Saturday night. This is where I pray like crazy and ask for a miracle.
- Receive the Holy Spirit. This is when everyone else is in bed asleep. Its just me and God. This is when the most powerful illustrations, applications and sentences come out of my mouth. They can't be mine, because I've been thinking about this all week and none of it came to mind until now.
- Sleep...if possible. Sometimes this is when the Enemy fights the most to keep me from resting.
- Wake up and feel terrible, nervous, tired and desperate. This forces me to pray more. I also use coffee and/or 5 Hour Energy to lubricate my heart for the Holy Spirit to work.
- Run through the sermon one more time.
- Acknowledge that I need God and ask Him to fill me with the Holy Spirit.
- Preach the sermon and watch God work.