How I Prepare a Sermon Message

I frequently get asked the same two questions about my message preparation:

How long does it take?

An average message takes about 20 to 25 hours from start to finish. I am a slow processor and I like to sit with things in my heart and mind a while before I put them on paper.

How do you go about putting a message together?

Most of my messages are birthed the same way.

  • Need: We plan series months in advance based on the perceived or realized needs of our people or the directions we sense God wants us to take the church.
  • Bottom-line Idea: I need to land on what the central point of the message is before I can go much further with the message.  Hopefully this happens weeks before the week I’m crafting the message.
  • Notes: After I know where I am headed I begin to keep notes on paper, on my computer, on my iPhone, and in scrap pieces of paper in my car or on my desk. These could be Scriptures, illustrations, or thoughts about the central idea.
  • All notes are eventually transferred to my Evernote file.
  • Study: I begin to study passages surrounding the theme/bottom-line I feel God is leading me towards.
  • Passage:  Preferably a week or two before the message is written I land on the passage of Scripture I feel God is leading me to use.
  • Study: I spend more extensive time studying the specific passage I am using in my message.
  • Point of Desperation:  Usually the week I am writing the message nothing I have written so far seems to make sense any more.  I almost always reach a frustrating point where I am forced to cry out to God for help breaking through the mental and spiritual blockage.  (I wonder if this is God-designed?)
  • Breakthrough:  God always seems to provide the breakthrough I need to move forward towards a completed message.  Sometimes it takes longer than I would like, but He always provides.
  • Outline:  I begin to outline my message with the 1)Opening Illustrations, 2)Scripture or Bible Story,  3)Closing Applications and Challenge
  • Script:  I am a manuscript guy, so the week of my message I write out the majority of what I plan to say on Sunday morning.

Of course, this whole process needs to be bathed in prayer and Holy Spirit directed, which means I need to spend quantity and quality time alone with God if the message is to be meaningful.

Pastors, how does this differ from the way you put together a message?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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16 thoughts on “How I Prepare a Sermon Message

  1. I prepare some whatever of a direction for about six months. Then I try to be about 1-2 weeks ahead, so when I preach a message I will have had it basically together for at least aweek, maybe two. I read the passage and pray as I read, then take notes in my personal devotion notebook. Next I will begin to look at some commentaries for things I am struggling with. Then I will start working on an outline, intro first, scripture, application and closing. These arent really steps as I will work on it at different times thru out any given week. I will spend around 10 hours prepping for a message,which includes reading to learn the outline.

  2. Well i thought i was one of the few that did it that way. Is pretty much what i do, i try to do it weeks in advance but usually i change a few things a couple of days before the message. thanks Ron !

  3. I don't want to sound contrary, as I believe in depth study of scripture is very important… but, if we are in the place of prayer, hearing God… it should be possible to pull a message together quite quickly. If we put a few hours into an outline, we should be able to preach out of it for 3-4 weeks or so.

    • Thanks John. I love difference of opinions. I don't think there is one right way to prepare a message. I do a lot of work with personalities differences and the way a person is wired will determine a great deal of the way they prepare a message also. Someone who is a "learner", for example, on the StrengthsFinders assessment is going to spend many more hours in in-depth study. That doesn't mean they aren't praying and hearing from God. God speaks greatly through His Word. Thanks for your thoughts! Love it!

  4. Question: Have you been able to sustain this sermon preparation schedule throughout the whole of your pastoral ministry or have you only now perfected your schedule? I’m currently inundated with church responsibilities that pull me away from my studies, and thus I find myself crammed at the end of every week. If you faced this as well, how did you remedy it?
    .-= Joseph Cole´s last blog ..Book Review: Green =-.

    • Joseph, it’s definitely become my system over the years, but basically I’ve been similar throughout my teaching days. The key is in setting up a schedule throughout the week. I discipline myself to do a little each day. I have written several posts about the way I schedule productive and “unproductive” (what seems unproductive at the time) times. I may do a post of simply my weekly schedule. Maybe that would help you see how I do it. Certainly learning and developing the system is key.

  5. I preach through the Bible, book-by-book, so I’m in Joshua now. On Monday, I start reading the passage over and over and I choose a single thought for emphasis. All of my sermon will revolve around that one great truth that I meditate on all week. I build supplemental material from the rest of Scripture around that theme.

    I wait until Friday or Saturday to construct my outline and then carry no notes into the pulpit so that I’m free to “move about the cabin.”

    The longer I prepare sermons, the less mechanical I become. I used to have a strict routine of outlining and preparing every message the same way. Now I find myself preparing differently from one week to the next, both in the amount of notes I compile and in the way I structure the message and deliver it.
    .-= Brandon Cox´s last blog ..Relationship Principles for Life (Part 2) =-.

  6. found you from michael hyatt’s suggestion. i enjoyed your suggestions. i dont know anything about you and assume you do a wonderful job. the only caution i would throw into your process is that some might take steps 4 & 5 and inappropriately prooftext their messages. Context is everything and commonly misapplied.

    dm
    .-= davidbmc´s last blog ..Heart: Back Up Your Relationships =-.

  7. Thanks Ron for the list- it is helpful. I was in pastoral ministry for 28 years and I put alot of work into every sermon and Bible study, far more hours than people in churches realize. And I would plan ahead. Being organized is so helpful and it doesn’t crowd out the Holy Spirit working. I still do some preaching and although I don’t have to organize months in advance I still feel I need to be as prepared as always. Your article was encouraging. Hopefully it will be helpful to young pastors who need to begin with good habits.

  8. I SO appreciate this article! It is exactly the same process that I grind through-especially the part about none of seeming to relate to the original idea. You know the part I’m talking about-when you realize that 11:43pm the night before is too late to call and say that you’re not gonna be able to make it…

    I’m gonna show this to my wife of fifteen years (been full-time in ministry for 13), this may help her to understand what I’ve been trying to communicate to her what it’s like to stand and communicate Biblical principles that never change to people who are CONSTANTLY changing…