Writing Your Message
I am not going to tell you that the process that I use is the right way to do it, the only way to do it or even the best way to do it. It is however, the right, the best and the only way for me.
The first thing I do when I prepare a sermon is to take my text and if at all possible I try to outline it. I will read the passage in several different versions. I look at a text of scripture as a piece of wood that is to be split. Anyone who has split wood knows that if you cut with the grain the wood splits easily. I believe all scripture splits the same way. It will split into a natural outline without being forced if you will let it. Read the text over and over in different versions, writing down every thought that comes into your mind and what you believe God is saying to you without any help at all.
After I’ve exhausted everything I can think of I go to the original language and do my word study. This is the hard work of exegesis. At this point you are trying to answer one question: “What did the text mean at the moment it was written?” If this question is not answered immediately and correctly then the rest of the message, most likely, will be theologically incorrect.
At this point, I begin to consult commentaries. In consulting commentaries the key question is not quantity, but quality. Old School: read every commentary you can find. New School: Read the best commentaries and the ones that stimulate your thinking the most. I have found that two and at the most three technical commentaries on any passage you are studying will give you all the exegetical and technical information you will need.
From the more exegetical commentaries I begin to read more of the expositional commentaries such as Warren Wiersby, Kent Hughes, John MacArthur, etc. Note: I have not attempted to listen to any other preacher who may have a sermon on this text. This is because I want the message to be primarily mine and not an adaptation of someone else’s. After I have done this research I will then listen to any CDs, messages on the internet, etc., that are on this particular text or subject. The biggest thing I am looking for, here, is a story or illustration that I may not have or a particular thought that I may have missed.
At this point, I go to my filing system and I look up everything that I have on the text and/or topics that I might be referring to in the message. Key: Treat you message and individual points as topics. This will give you clues on how to find relevant illustrative material.
For example, I preached a message once on Psalm 139 on the “Greatness of God”. My first point dealt with God’s Omniscience. My second point dealt with God’s Omnipresence and the third point dealt with God’s Omnipotence. All three of those are topics in my filing system which allowed me to search for relevant and illustrative material.
I am also at this point consulting my filing system to find every single source or resource I may have on the text that I am studying (this could include newspaper articles, magazines articles, CDs, chapters in books, quotes, illustrations, etc.) I use a legal pad giving one full page to my introduction, separate pages to my points and then the last page for my conclusion. As I read and gather materials, I am writing notes down on the particular page in point in which the material is relevant. This way I do not have to go back and rearrange all the material.
Organize and Write
After I’ve completed this entire process I take the sheets of paper, tear them out of the legal pad and basically start over. At this stage, I am now organizing the material that I want to include in my message in a logical way. When this is finished I dictate my message which is typed up in a manuscript form which I take to the pulpit. I now teach with the manuscript on an iPad, but the process is the same.
Introduction and Conclusion
The two most important parts of a sermon are the introduction and the conclusion. The reason is very simple. In the first five minutes of a message people are asking themselves this question: “Why should I bother listening to this message?” The other reason is the last thing you say is the last thing people will remember. A strong introduction and a strong conclusion can strengthen a weak message, but a strong message cannot overcome a weak introduction or a weak conclusion.
Author: Dr. James Merritt, Senior Pastor of Cross Point Church and Host of Touching Lives