The Art of the Sermon Part Five: The Outline (or the Transcript) (or the Keynote)

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!

Alright. You've got your topic. You've done your research. You've scrapped all that in favor of recycling an old sermon. You've fine tuned it to make sure it's still relevant. Now you have to turn all of those ideas into a sermon!
Relax, this is no time to panic!
For me, this is probably one of the most fun parts of the process. It's fun to watch all these ideas and journal scribbles come together into something that makes sense. This part of the process for me looks different just about every time I come to write a sermon, but I thought I'd share at least how it went down this time. Obviously, step zero is (and has been this whole series) start with a good (or if you're in the office settle for decent) cup of coffee. Then proceed!
(Spoiler alert: If you attend the Bridge, there are a couple of giveaways about the sermon this week. If you don't want to know, and would rather be surprised at the Bridge, I'd wait to read this until later!)1. Begin with the end in mind.Maybe this is something weird that I do, but I always try to start with the ending of a sermon. What do I hope they will get out of all this assorted information? What do I want them thinking about as they walk out of the sanctuary gym?
For this reason, this time in particular, I started with the benediction. Some people have one benediction that they use over and over again, which is great. But for me, I like to tie the benediction to the sermon. For example, the benediction to this sermon is "May we remember why we sing. May we remember Christ's saving work in our lives. May we remember that we are loved. And may we continue to make a joyful noise to the Lord, even if we can't carry a tune in a bucket!"
That's how this thing has to end. How are we going to get it there?
2. Start funnyI don't know if you can consider this a spiritual gift, but Sarah tells me that in my writing and my speaking, I'm pretty good at taking people from a pretty funny story into deep spiritual matters. If I do it right, sometimes I can get people to forget how we got there!
The truth is, you have to think about your congregation. While most of us in the ministry love to hear about the next theological idea or discourse, most people in church in Sunday are still thinking about their weeks, what's coming on Monday, their taxes, or who the Steelers are absolutely humiliating playing on Sunday. They may not be ready to dip right into something serious. You have to start light with em.
For me, it's usually a funny story dealing with some embarrassing moment, like how I nearly peed my pants on a high ropes course at a camp a few years ago (trust me, I can get from here to why we sing. Just come see it). Maybe you're not in the funny camp, and you'd rather start with some sort of discussion question, or prayer activity, or whatever. Anything to kind of transition them out of musical worship and into a time of reading the word.
3. Media is king(As I'm typing a lot of this, I realize that if a seminary homiletics professor read this they'd probably want to punch me in the face. I don't know anything about formal preaching, but I do know what works for me. Just thought I'd toss that in there...)
In the middle ages, churches began to look like castles. During the enlightenment, churches moved the pulpit to the center of the sanctuary to better highlight thinking and logic. During the industrial revolution, churches started building board rooms and offices. The church, for better or worse, always has a hand in the dominant popular culture it finds itself in.
Today, our dominant cultural element is media. iPods, PS3s, Wii's, TVs, and cell phones of all varieties (though iPhones are still the best...) are at the top of everybody's Christmas list this year, I'm almost certain. Our culture at least responds to (if it is not driven by) media.
So why aren't our sermons?
For me, at this point of the process, I take some time to create a Keynote file (Powerpoint for you non-Mac people) for the sermon. Some people learn by listening, and others by reading or seeing. We shouldn't alienate half of our congregation just because listening to the spoken word isn't their predominant learning style!
For me too, this works out to be pretty handy. If I create the Keynote document, I can quickly turn that into an outline for me. It's a quick glance way for me to see where I am in the sermon, and where it is I wanted to be headed.
Some people like to have a complete transcript in front of them of what they want to say. Sometimes I find this helpful, but honestly I feel like I'm reading a bit too much if I use a transcript. And, because I do tend to go off on at least a little bit of a tangent every now and again, it's a lot harder to find your spot in a transcript than it is in an outline. Combine that with the fact that there is almost no light at all on the Bridge stage, and I'm going to be sticking with an outline for a long while. But if a transcript works for you, go for it!
One more step left folks! Tune in this weekend to see the stunning conclusion!