The Art of the Sermon Part One: Two weeks out.

Always looking for a gimmick for the blog, and constantly being asked about it, I've decided to work on a two-week series called "The Art of the Sermon." I'm going to
walk through step by step everything I do for a sermon, from two weeks out until Sunday morning at the Bridge. I will then post a youtube video of the sermon, just in case you can't make the Bridge. If we do it right, this will be fun and educational! Come along!

I think it starts a bit sooner than two weeks out, when I first gaze upon the spreadsheet. We have this spreadsheet that we pass around every week, displaying who's preaching, leading worship, and what texts have already been used at the Bridge. It's our schedule, but it's also a tool to make sure we're not preaching on the same topics again and again and again.
At first it wasn't a big deal, but now that the spreadsheet covers almost an entire year, it's starting to be a little disconcerting to pick your topic when you have weeks and weeks of old topics that are meant to be avoided. So naturally, when you gaze upon the spreadsheet and see that you are scheduled to preach on November 8th, panic sets in.

The panic gets worse when you realize that you've stolen every Rob Bell sermon that there is to steal, and that your congregation is on to you. When I first started out in ministry, I was pretty much the Rob Bell clone. I spent all my time listening to Mars Hill sermons, jotting down endless notes in my journals. I would then take certain elements of the sermon and cut them down to size (Rob preaches for 45 minutes on average, the amount of time I would like to preach. However, most Presbyterians only have the stomach for about 15-20 minutes,
so each Rob Bell sermon was good for a two week series). I even picked up his fashion sense for glasses.

So I've really tried to lay off the Rob Bell in recent months. At first, it was like a junkie giving up his drug. My first sermons were sloppy and not well organized and I think I even had the jitters. But as I kept going, I began to find my own voice. I began to come up with a process for sermon writing that really helped me be my own person. I'm even to the point where I'm way behind in Mars Hill sermons, because I have my own to write!

It's also helped that with the addition of Mandi and Tammy to the staff, I don't preach nearly as much as I used to. I think between the fall kickoff and Christmas last year I was good for about 8 sermons. This year, I only have 3. The extra time in between is invaluable. There's time to study, to learn, to digest, and to pray about what God wants me to share with the congregation. Someday, I am sure I will find myself in a primary teaching role, where I have to come up with something new every single week. But until then, I am going to enjoy the pace that comes with being a backup goalie.

So here we are. Two weeks out. I would love to tell you that I have my sermon already outlined and that I'm just looking for a cute story or a creative illustration, but I would be misleading you. I have nothing. I have a blank piece of paper. I have a blinking cursor. I have absolutely no idea what the sermon is going to be like or about. Remember that panic I mentioned?

But actually, it's important to think of your sermon starting here, in the vast void of space. Some preachers don't think the sermon process starts until they start writing something down on paper or reaching for their favorite commentary. But for me, this emptiness is important. What you really have to remember at this point in the process is that it's God's sermon, not yours. Even if you think it's yours, even if you plan it to be yours, write it like it's yours, and even try your best to make it all about you, it's still ultimately God's sermon. There's a reason that commentary is your favorite. It's because God has placed it on your heart.

So in these vast blank moments, I find it super important to listen to what God wants his sermon to be about. This morning, I spent some time in God's word, in both the Old and New Testaments, just kind of feeling out where he's leading me (while this isn't essential to the writing process, I think it's critical that this step be performed with a cup of coffee in hand). I read through my devotions (currently in Ezekiel and Matthew), and tried really hard to notice a common theme. I'm also reading a book by Francis Chan called "Forgotten God". Books are super helpful in sermon writing, if only because they help tie some things together.

This is the hard part at this point: you have to listen. I have become a huge fan of the practice of lectio divina, or praying through the scriptures. It's the difference between reading the scriptures and allowing the scriptures to read you. All too often I think people read the scriptures when preparing for a sermon with an academic mindset. That's all well and good, but that part comes later. Right now you want to spend your time listening to what God has to say to you. If you pray through the scriptures properly, certain words or phrases will start to pop out at you. Right now, it seems as though God really wants me to focus on the Holy Spirit (which, when you think about it, the Holy Spirit is how God speaks to us, so the Holy Spirit really wants this one to be all about her) (my use of the word "her" there may be it's own blog post soon enough. Stay tuned...). That may change a couple of days from now, but that's where my heart is being led at the moment.

This is only the beginning of the process. There's a lot more to come on this adventure. Stay tuned, because I promise to blog after every step of the way. If I even think about my sermon, there will be a blog post. And of course, I would welcome comments and suggestions along the way!

See you all soon!



Ed Cyzewski said...

I like how you described the lectio divina process. That's the goal!