Part I discussed steps one through three…
- First, I read over the passage a number of times.
- Second, I copy the verses to Word with spaces between them for the notes I’ll add.
- Third, I begin looking at commentaries.
- Fourth, I determine the number of verses to cover.
The two factors I take into consideration are the context of the verses (discussed in Part II) and the number of words in my notes. While some pastors’ notes contains statements or phrases reminding them what to say, my “notes” are a manuscript of the message itself and are much lengthier as a result.
Each week I write a letter to the congregation on the back of the bulletin and then I turn those letters into posts on my blog. Something interesting is I started this letter/post in July 2012, but never got around to finishing/using it until now. I have about thirty potential bulletin letters in a folder on my computer to use when I don’t have another topic to discuss. Usually I write about something happening in the church or the world, or I use something I took out of the sermon because it didn’t relate or didn’t fit. If I don’t have something along these lines to use I’ll pull out a bulletin letter I started earlier.
When I started this letter/post about developing a sermon 2.5 years ago I had written, “I try to keep the manuscript for my sermon to 4,500 words, which ends up being about forty-five minutes.” I have a spreadsheet keeping track of the information related to each of my messages (the date, title, verses covered, number of words in my notes, length of the message if it was recorded, setting [i.e. Sunday School, morning service, Wednesday night, devotional for an event]), and here’s what’s interesting: the manuscripts for my last twelve sermons have averaged 6,178 words. That’s a pretty substantial increase over the 4,500 words from a few years ago (and an even bigger increase from the 3,800 words I averaged in my first sermons at WCC a little over four years ago). BUT the actual length of my sermons hasn’t increased much.
I’m pleased with this because it means I’m being more disciplined when preaching, sticking to my notes, avoiding rabbit trails, etc. If I can get more material in my notes without changing the length of my sermons it means I’m covering more material in the same amount of time. While it’s great to be “led by the Spirit” – and there’s definitely the occasional addition to a sermon that wasn’t in my notes – I think it’s much better to have invested the time studying and use the material that’s been meticulously prepared, prayed over, thought about during the week, etc. than information preached off the cuff.