How Does a Preacher Write a Sermon?

Somebody asked me, this morning, how I go about writing a sermon. I thought it was an interesting question, and one I haven't answered publicly for a long time.

There are, of course, many different answers to that question. Noted theologian Karl Barth is quoted as having often said that the most faithful way to do theology is with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other hand (to Barth's credit, he advised to let the Bible interpret the newspaper, not the other way around). Perhaps he would counsel the preacher to write sermons with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. My preaching professor, Sheldon Tostengard (like Richard Caemmerer, who taught at Concordia Seminary for 25 years), encouraged us to preach from the model of goal (What do Scriptures propose?), malady (What is wrong with us?), means (How can the sermon proclaim a way forward?).

I tried a number of these methods earlier in my preaching career. But in recent years, I have tried to hold myself to a simpler model. It is a three-step process.

  1. Try to discern what the meaning of the text was in its original setting.
  2. Compose a sermon based on how that message speaks to me.
  3. Trust that if anyone else needs to learn something from the text, or from my sermon, the Holy Spirit will make it happen.

There are times when listeners will say (positively), "I felt like you were speaking right to me." or (negatively), "Preacher, who do you have in mind with that sermon?" But the truth is, many of us who preach are preaching primarily to ourselves. It is when we engage the text personally, with honesty and humility, that we seem to have the most to say.

The nice thing about this method is that I'll never have to write an autobiography. All I have to do is page back through this blog and see when I needed a word of comfort, when I needed a word of challenge, and when I was trying to sort things out.

Anything beyond that, I'll simply give thanks for the work of the Holy Spirit. Without that, we preachers wouldn't have a prayer!