Do people in the pews of churches ever wonder how the preacher creates the sermons they listen to?
In case anyone is interested today I will begin a three part blog on the process I use. This is not universal to all preachers. The only one I know is my own.
- Reading the passage
- Part A: The research
- Part B: The point
- Creating an outline
- Writing a first draft
READING THE PASSAGE
It may seem like a no-brainer. You have to read the passage before you can deliver a sermon based on it. But it is more involved than it seems. First there is the selection of the passage,called a text for that sermon. i generally use the lectionary. That is a list of Biblical passages for each Sunday. There are usually at least four texts listed. I read them all and determine which one is the most relevant to the congregation I am speaking to. Sometimes I choose a text that is not one of the lectionary lessons. Some preachers never follow the lectionary. There is no right or wrong way to choose. But there is a danger in choosing your own passage. You may be tempted to tell the listeners what you think with a passage from the Bible to back you up. To me, that is not preaching. That is a lecture with the Bible as a pretext. But that’s just me.
Once I have selected a passage, the next step is to read it prayerfully. I desperately need God’s guidance to deliver a message to God’s people. Sure it goes through the filters of my life and my perspective, but it must be the text that informs me as to what I will say; not the only way around.
Then I read it again. This time I make a list of the characters and the verbs. I begin to ask myself the Who What When Where and Why questions. I jot these questions down. If this is a familiar passage that I have preached before, it is important for me to try and see the text anew; like I have never read it before. Now, with one more prayer, it is time to start doing the hard work of research.
PART A: THE RESEARCH
There are many books called commentaries. These are written by scholars about one of the books of the Bible. They contain important information about the passage you are preaching. They tell you if there are language issues to be aware of. For instance in Genesis 29 the writer talks about Leah’s eyes. The Bible I use translates it as lovely eyes. Other translations call them weak eyes or dull eyes. There is a footnote in my version that tells me that the Hebrew meaning of the word is unclear. No kidding! Commentaries also tell you if there are text issues. Read the end of Mark’s Gospel. If your Bible is like mine you will have three different versions of the ending. Which one is closest to the original and why would there be more than one? That is a text issue. the commentaries then follow the text verse by verse giving valuable background information about the setting and the meaning of the terms used.
I usually try to have have four sources. Some are more scholarly than others. Some try to help with the transition to themes. Some of my favorites are Feasting on the Word, The New Interpreters Bible, The Interpretation Series and a on-line commentary edited by Walter Brueggemann. I also use the Barclay series sometimes. It is not as academic as the others, but it is still very helpful. I also use specific work for some texts. I cannot preach one of the parables without referring to Ken Bailey’s work.
I take notes as I do this research. A skill that I have developed with time is to write only the significant things about the text and leave out the trivial. This Part A will inform the development of Part B which we will examine next time.
JOKE OF THE DAY
The little boy was sitting in church during the sermon. He said to his dad, “What does it mean when the preacher looks at his watch?” His father responded, “Not a thing, son, not a thing,”