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Four Steps to Manageable Sermon-Writing

Four Steps to Manageable Sermon-Writing

Jon Delger

Executive Pastor

Peace Church

Published On:

November 27, 2023

It’s Monday morning. You have to preach on Sunday morning. How do you get from here to there without waiting for that lightning-strike idea, without the Saturday-night cram, and amidst all the other things you have to do this week?

For many pastors, that white screen with a slow-blinking cursor is a great source of anxiety. It certainly was for me. Prior to becoming a Lead Pastor, I relished my opportunities to preach. I enjoyed studying, writing, thinking creatively, public speaking, and I had a fair amount of experience for my age. One thing I lacked… the experience of preaching every week (actually it became twice a week for me, two different messages every Sunday morning and evening). I was not prepared for what it would take to generate that amount of material in that amount of time. That’s not to mention, good material. Messages that expound God’s Word, reveal the amazing God of the Bible, assure people with the promises of God, convict of sin, share grace through the cross of Jesus, and lead to action empowered by the Spirit.

Initially, I did what many do. I doubted. Why did I become a pastor? I must have missed my calling. I can’t do this.

It took some time, but finally, I realized this was not a matter of talent, intelligence, spirituality, or calling; my problem was actually a lack of a system.

A system is just a way of doing something that gets you a predictable result every time. If you’re going to do something over and over (like preaching a sermon every week), then it’s worth having a system.

You could always be smarter, have more training, have more experience, or have read more books, but the reality is that God has called you to this right now. So let’s quit feeling sorry for ourselves and figure out a system for writing faithful and fruitful sermons week after week.

Four Steps to Manageable Sermon-Writing: Idea, Schedule, Draft, Edit

One of the myths many pastors believe is that one just sits down and writes a sermon. Of course, this isn’t their own experience week to week, but they assume this is the experience of other pastors (the smarter and more talented ones).

The reality is that you can have a more consistent and less stressful sermon-creating experience by breaking down the process and focusing on each step in its own time.

One of the breakthrough moments in developing my own system was reading Jeff Goins’ article on his own three-bucket writing system ( You’ll notice my system utilizes his three steps.

Step #1: Generate Ideas

All sermons are an exposition of God’s Word, but ideas for a sermon can come from many places: the text of Scripture, the felt needs of your church, relevant topics in your community, the calendar, etc.

Be always on the lookout for sermon ideas. Collect ideas throughout your day every day and write them down. Write the main idea, the text of Scripture, and a working title. Identify whether you think this is an individual sermon or a series.

Establish a system for collecting your ideas. I use a notes/writing app called Bear ( I have a tag called “sermon” with subtags for each of these steps. As the sermon progresses through the steps, I move the file through the tags (like folders). You could use other tools like Evernote, Microsoft Word, or a notebook.

Set aside time occasionally to go through your ideas and develop them. Study the text of Scripture just enough to establish or confirm the main idea. You’ll do deeper study when you come to actually preaching that sermon. For now, your goal is just to do enough thinking, studying, and writing to make sure your idea works and clarify it for later use.

Step #2: Schedule

Sermons are written for real people in real-time and place. A sermon prepared in abstract leads to listeners who only have an abstract idea of what the text means and how it applies. Before developing a sermon further, figure out the time, place, and people to whom it will be preached.

I plan sermons a semester at a time (three per year: Fall, Winter/Spring, Summer). For each semester, I create a document containing dates and slots for each sermon. Before the end of the current semester, I make sure to complete the next semester’s document using the ideas I’ve stored up. I also link my series and sermon overviews to that document and share them with other staff or leaders.

Putting sermons on the calendar helps you plan concretely, plan around other things happening, and help other leaders plan around you. It also helps you commit to further developing and eventually preaching that sermon (for some of us, the struggle to commit to a sermon idea is actually what keeps us from writing the sermon).

Step #3: Create Drafts

This is what many might call the actual writing of the sermon. However, as we’ve already seen, sermon-writing does not just happen in a single step. Neither does drafting need to happen in a single sitting or even a single week. Once you know what you plan to preach in the coming weeks, it becomes much easier to collect ideas, notes, illustrations, applications, books, and articles related to that future sermon. Add these to the file you started in Step 1 throughout the weeks prior to preaching.

By the time you get to the week of actually preaching that sermon, your work should be more about narrowing your focus than generating material. This is what leads to more consistency and less stress.

Take your collected ideas and notes, reread them, and identify the main points of your sermon. Write out your explanation of those points. Choose illustrations and applications for each. Work out an introduction and conclusion. Create a conceptual draft - each point, illustration, or application stated in a single sentence. Create another draft expanding those sentences. Do it again and again until you have what looks like a sermon.

Step #4: Edit

When I write first drafts, they’re messy. I move from concepts in a first draft to more refined points and eventually to something like a loose manuscript. The more of your week you can spend editing and redrafting rather than generating new material, the better.

Don’t be a perfectionist. I’ve often said - sermons are never finished, just preached. Make sure it’s faithful to Scripture, aims at application, and pray for the Holy Spirit’s work in you and your listeners.

Once your material is written, practice your presentation. Then go to bed at a decent time on Saturday night.

Sermon-writing Managed

God has called you to preach. What he has called you to, he will equip you for. You don’t need to be somebody else, you need the Holy Spirit and… a system.

You may have realized this system takes planning. It also means working on multiple sermons at the same time. If that frightens you, take baby steps. Start by planning just a few weeks in advance. Even if you don’t work on your draft before the week of preaching, at least you start the week knowing what you will preach.

If you want to preach sermons that are faithful to Scripture and bear fruit in your listeners without waiting for lightning to strike, cramming on Saturday night, forsaking your other responsibilities of the week, or being overwhelmed by stress… break down the process. Idea, schedule, draft, edit, repeat. Keep preaching.

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