6 Replies to “Sermon writing workflow?”

  1. I have a general idea of my preaching schedule for the liturgical year well in advance and keep a small notebook in my purse, with a page allotted to each preaching date. When I’m waiting for a restaurant meal or in the ferry line or elsewhere, I have time to jot notes to myself or ideas that have come to me about the topics I know I will be addressing. When the page is full, I tear it out and drop it in a folder already prepared for that Sunday.

    During the week before the Sunday, I try to sit down at my desk and map out a general outline or at least a page of threads to tie together into the sermon. By Thursday, I hope to have a very rough draft and by Friday I usually have a completed sermon, though one that needs a good deal of polishing.

    As I’m writing at the computer, I read aloud what I have written, to make sure it is hearable, as the written word doesn’t necessarily “hear” well. On Saturday, I deliver it a couple of times and tone up any loose constructions or unclear wordings. On Sunday, I read quickly through it once before the service. From that point on, it’s in God’s hands.

    I’m no good at extemporizing a sermon, so it’s important to me to have a good manuscript, though I don’t read it, I deliver it. And I don’t do well creating a sermon at the last minute, so I give myself plenty of time.

    Thanks for asking, Scott. I’ll be interested in what others offer.

  2. I’m a United pastor and nearly always a lectionary preacher. Why the latter? Well, I think that people who come to Christian churches do so very largely because they’ve got some interest in the Bible, and lectionary gets us through a lot of the Bible over three years. I also find the groupings of readings kind of fascinating, sometimes bizarre, and frequently illuminating.

    Because I’m a lectionary preacher it’s pretty easy to do advanced planning, and I tend to work 2-3 months ahead and then run down to the last week or two.

    I am in my second year as a pastor, so the first thing I do in preparation is to make a file of the lectionary readings for each Sunday I’m planning ahead for, and read the Scriptures and see what comes to me. Then I note it down.

    With some idea what idea(s) I’m likely to shape the service around, I think about what hymns and songs from our two hymnals and from other repertoire* seem to me likely to make sense, and write a long note to my minister of music telling her, for each Sunday, the lectionary (or occasionally other) Scriptures for the day and which I’m likely to use, the direction I expect to go in, and my list of hymns and songs.

    I print this out for both of us, and also print out the files of lectionary Scriptures for myself.

    Then Sue reads the Scriptures and contemplates them, and thinks about hymns and songs from our hymnals and from her vast musical experience make sense to her. And what special music she has up her sleeve.

    Then we meet and talk over music, and I often find that Sue’s take and the music we actually choose shapes or alters what I’d been rolling around my tiny brain.

    I read over my files periodically– the collections of Scripture, and what I’d been thinking earlier and what music is planned. I think about sermons for the next one to three weeks more or less involuntarily while I drive or shower or whatever.

    I work on getting bulletin material to my church administrator by before-she’s-in-on-Thursday. As I shape the service I contemplate the sermon in further detail, and name it. Sometimes I have a remarkably good idea how I think the sermon should go. Sometimes only pretty good.

    Over the next several days I juggle material and sermon shapes.

    I used to write out each sermon, though I never read sermons. But roughly a year ago my computer developed the habit of shutting down as I worked on writing sermons, tacitly eliminating sermons, and doing neither of these things with other files. After a couple of months, I began to wonder whether I should treat this as a noodge from God, and stopped trying to write sermons out. I create a mental outline of the sermon, and then a computer file and a print-out on Saturday or early Sunday morning. Maybe I was being noodged by God– it’s been workgin out pretty well.

    I’ll be interested to hear about your process and others!

  3. Scott,

    My writing process begins with research about 2-3 months out. I begin by the selection of a topic, and then brain storming sessions whenever I have a bit of time that is not dedicated to something. I do reasearch out of the ideas of those sessions.

    I have a regular practice of writing, through journaling and through blogging, and I find that much of my sermons come from that practice.

    Two weeks prior I will type out a list of all the ideas for the sermon, in no coherent order.

    One week prior I will create the liturgy.

    I set aside a day the week of the sermon, and what ususally happens is not that I write the sermon, but I type out the sermon that has already been written in my mind and heart over the previous weeks.

    Needless to say, this process runs concurrently though many different sermons. They are divided for me by topics (“Ok, I’ve got 20 minutes, lets write out some ideas on the Good and Evil sermon” or “Today’s blog post might work with the sermon on Zen I am working on, lets lookt at it”.

    All of this might sound kinda organized, but it is certainly not planned. This is just the flow of how it seems to happen.

    Yours in Faith,

    David Pyle

  4. What the heck, I’ll chime in.

    I plan sermon topics for the year in late spring. I usually do a “question box sermon” on the first Sunday in June, and I get lots of ideas for sermon topics from the question submitted by the congregation. I group sermons into a rough schedule based on the following schedule:

    September through Thanksgiving I do sermons that touch on denominational identity (thus as a Unitarian Universalist, I do at least one or two sermons on universal salvation in the fall, etc.) — fall is the time when we see the greatest influx of newcomers, so it makes sense to let folks know who we are right up front. Then from Thanksgiving through February, I explore the Bible, emphasizing passages central to the Black Church during Black History Month (e.g., Exodus) — January sees another big influence of newcomers, so in this predominantly Catholic city I like to give folks a heavy dose of how *we* see the Bible. From the latter half of February through Easter, I preach on our connection with world religions (in our multi-racial congregation, with an emphasis on Africa and the African diaspora in Black History Month). Palm Sunday and Easter should be obvious. Then I move into ecojustice, which is one of the two big moral issues with which our congregation concerns itself (racism is the other). Following that comes Memorial Day, the question box sermon, the “Flower Celebration” introduced to our church in 1940 by a well-known minister, Father’s Day, and then I’m off to the big denominational meeting and we have lay preachers and guest preachers until I return in August.

    Our Sunday school follows a similar sequence of topics in their curriculum: denominational identity, Judeo-Christian heritage, world religions, and ecojustice (summers off). That way, the children and their parents are going through a similar set of topics at the same time.

    Our music director gets the sermon topics over the summer, allowing him to prepare music well in advance.

    I do substantial reading in advance during my study leave in the summer. (I should take notes on my reading, but rely on memory instead.)

    From August through June, Thursday is my sermon-writing day. I revise and rewrite on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Next year, I hope to write a week in advance, so that when I rewrite I’ve had more time to let the sermon stew in the back of my mind.

    Once a month, I don’t have to write a sermon (pulpit exchanges, guest preachers), and on the Thursday before those dates I read and study for the next month’s sermons. I typically need 12-20 hours to prepare and write a sermon.

    Some of this system comes from “Thematic Preaching” by Jane Rzepka and Ken Sawyer, both of whom are preachers that I admire.

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