Thursday, August 07, 2008

On Sermon-Writing

I seem to have developed something of a process for sermonizing.
  1. I read the text in several translations (thank goodness for BibleWorks and online Bible tools of one sort or another).
  2. I read it in the original language, focusing on the words that seem problematic or interesting or pique my curiosity in some unnameable way.
  3. I meditate on it for a while.
  4. I do a brain dump of ideas floating around in my head, including possible links to illustrations or other imagery. Often it's a list of questions.
  5. I think about what's most important to me in the text.
  6. I narrow it down from twelve most important things to just a couple.
  7. I read the commentaries and see what cool stuff I've missed.
  8. I meditate and pray some more.
  9. Sometimes a "hook" presents itself, an image or a story around which to build the sermon, and that's a real blessing, but sometimes it doesn't happen, and it gets much harder.
  10. I try and come up with a one-sentence theme, AKA "what I hope they'll think about from this sermon for the rest of the week, or at least until the end of coffee hour."
  11. I start writing.
  12. I start rewriting.
  13. I throw it away, and start writing again.
  14. Once I've got a half-decent second or third draft, sometimes I'll run it by PH, who is good about identifying transitions that aren't working, or if I'm assuming some knowledge on the part of the listener which is unreasonable.
  15. I edit it down.
  16. I edit it down some more (‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’ - editing advice from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch), editing out the darlings that don't contribute to the thesis of the sermon. I hate it, though, when I've got a really cool bit of writing that needs to be jettisoned.
  17. I let it rest.
  18. I go back and re-read out loud, at which point I can usually hear things like disagreement in tense, problems with pronouns etc.
  19. I re-write some more.

I get this done over the course of five days or so, a couple of hours at a time. Inevitably, though, when I deliver the sermon, I find all sorts of stuff that I don't like, or that I modify in the moment. Not sure there is anything to fix that problem.

How do you write your sermons?


Rev Dr Mom said...

I have a similar process crammed into a smaller bit of time. The most important thing is for me to read the gospel over and get it in my head at least by Monday of the week I'm preaching (sometimes even earlier--only possible b/c I preach every other week). We have two midweek services and use the readings for the upcoming Sunday, so I have two chances to talk about it informally at these services. I get everything into my head and let it simmer there. And usually on Saturday morning I sit down and write til I'm done. For better or for worse I edit as I go. Sometimes I know what I'm going to write before I sit down, but often I don't know til I get going what I'm going to say. But somehow it works.

mibi52 said...

RDM, you're so much more efficient than I am, most likely because you're more experienced than I am. Someday I'll get there. Yup, that business of not knowing what I'm going to say until I start typing sometimes happens to me, too. Thank goodness for the working of the Holy Spirit!

Crimson Rambler said...

it comforts me that somebody else has read Quiller-Couch on one's "favorite bits"...!!!