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A Bit About How I Write Sermons

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One of my favorite feelings is when the existential urgency of a sermon clicks for me. 

Let me explain what I mean.

So if you go to my speaking schedule on my website, which is https://danielr.net/upcoming, then you’ll see that I have my sermons planned out in advance. But these are typically just sermon titles along with a few ideas I have scribbled in my notebook or stored in the notepad on my phone. There may be a key verse, a few points, and maybe an illustration or two I have in mind when I jot down the title.

Typically, I have a lot of faith in these sermon ideas. I believe in the message, and the content is something I think my congregation needs, and if it isn’t, I have no problem changing the sermon. So while I hold it loosely, I like to get the basics jotted down so that I can keep my eyes open for quotes, passages, and maybe even others who happen to be teaching or writing on the same thing.

But even though I may have a lot of good information and even a decent flow for the sermon, there are times when I don’t have the thing that convinces me that the sermon is absolutely necessary for me to preach and for the congregation to hear. This is the existential urgency. And when I am convinced of it, my sermons flow so much better, I feel better, and I feel like the delivery and energy is better. When I can’t capture the existential urgency, I feel like my sermon falls flat, even though people may still get something out of it.

So let’s get back to the opening line.

One of my favorite feelings is when the existential urgency of a sermon clicks for me. 

This week has been tough. We were out of the office on Monday because it was a federal holiday, and then, after Tuesday morning Bible class, I got a message from daycare because Cayden has another ear infection. This means a few days of fevers and a not-so-playful Cayden. This also means that I need to stay home for a couple of days. And THIS means that I find myself getting my hours in at Waffle House at weird hours of the night.

I came to Waffle House on this particular night to write out my sermon manuscript for this Sunday. I’m not really a sermon manuscript guy, so this is more of a way to improve my writing and provide some extra resources to people like yourself. This particular sermon has been on my mind for several months, so getting it on the page is fairly easy.

But even though I’ve been excited for it and have a couple of pages of notes and thoughts in my notebook, I didn’t have the central idea that gives the sermon its kick. I didn’t have a way to capture the existential urgency. Once I find it, everything else falls into place; I may even end up throwing out a few sections or rearranging a thing or two when this happens.

So I was sitting in Waffle House forcing myself to write out a sermon I’ve already preached in my head dozens of times, when a paragraph came out of nowhere. The more I typed, the more excited I got. A few times I thought, “Am I really going to say this?” But I couldn’t stop writing.

Finally, the paragraph was complete, and I just sat and stared at it for a second, reading over it several times. It just felt right. I felt necessary. After a moment, I went ahead and wrote the rest of the section that seemed to naturally flow from that paragraph, but then I had to stop.

When I find the existential urgency, or when it finds me, sometimes I feel compelled to write the rest of the sermon right there because it flows so naturally into what I’ve already been working on, but other times, like this one, I need to let it roll around in my head for a bit while I bring the other sections of the sermon before it to see how they hold up. I might do this all in my head or think about the key idea as I read over my scribbles. Sometimes the only way to get it out is to preach it out loud.a few times.

This seems like one of those times.

So I’m writing this as I process the shape the sermon is now taking, and I’m enjoying what’s coming to me.

Anyway, there’s a bit about my creative process. Maybe that will help you in some ways.

A Few More Thoughts

There isn’t one single method I use to write sermons. Sometimes, I write out a few key words, an outline, or maybe a passage with different words underlined on my dry erase board in the office.

Sometimes I’ll do a similar thing in my notebook, but it ends up looking more like a spider web with arrows and underlines all over the place.

Then there’s times when I write the sermon in my head and get it all out on paper as quickly as possible in the form of a manuscript.

But there’s also the sermons that refuse to go onto paper. Writing them out or even building a powerpoint just feels wrong, so I just deliver it extemporaneously.

Some sermons are written over the phone with a friend, on a napkin, in the notes on my phone, or while I’m on a walk or on a run. I’ve written some sermons by using my voice memo app to capture my thoughts and then transcribe them later.

The point is that there isn’t a right way to do it. Just go for it, and do what feels right. Sometimes changing the setting will change how it manifests itself. Maybe you’re trying to write the sermon in the wrong place. Some sermons feel like Waffle House sermons while others need to be written after a nice hike. Get creative and let it flow. It’ll find its way.

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