StartNew Podcast: How to write a great sermon

During the time of Covid and online worship, Bill shares four ingredients he’s honed over the last 30 + years that help him write and deliver great sermons. Writing a sermon that sticks, that’s impactful and speaks to the common man will reach the unchurched people in your community.


1. Sermon writing in a digital age

Preaching God’s word has always been important. In our digital age where someone more interesting is just a click away, writing a great sermon is more critical than ever. The typical person wants to understand what God’s word means to them, how it applies to their life. God’s word must be presented in such a way that it’s clear and gives meaning. In today’s culture we are bombarded with messages from everywhere at all times of the day. How can we position the word of God in such a way that the audience hasn’t heard it that way before?

2. Four Ingredients that will help you write and deliver a great sermon

If gathering for worship is a critical part of your church model, then your sermon is a key piece. Expect to spend 10-15 hours of your week preparing your message so it sticks and engages your listeners. Make the time. It will be worth it. Here’s the approach, including the 4 questions Bill asks that helps write a sermon that sticks and engages the listener. 

  1. What does the scripture mean to me?
    • Yes, you’re writing your message for your audience. But you’ll appreciate the message more when you understand what’s in it for you. Studying the scripture in a spiritually disciplined way, not just in an academic way, will become a huge blessing to you. When you understand what God’s takeaways are for you, you’ll craft a message that better connects with your listener. 
    • Your prayer should always be that the word of God would speak into the heart of the person, realizing that God and His work in Jesus are not just for some after time in their lives but for the today in their lives. Ask yourself  “So what’s God got to do with today? What’s happening in my life right now?” Taking this posture will help you craft a message that resonates with your audience who’s living  in the here-and-now.

  2. What does the scripture actually say?
    • Context matters. To proclaim the Word from a position of knowledge and awareness, look at the verse or passage in the context of where it’s found in the scripture. The geography, culture, and even timeframe matter in that particular chapter or letter. Scripture is timeless, it had a meaning in that day and will also have a meaning in this day. When you understand context, the listener can grow in their understanding and awareness of how the word of God spoke then and speaks now. 
    • Don’t write your sermon in a way that’s so academic it leaves people scratching their heads. Put yourself in your listener’s shoes and ask, “Why are you telling me this?” Don’t just read the scripture. Most of your time should be spent unpacking a particular verse or section for your audience. Make it come alive so your listeners understand why it was written, where it came from, what it’s about, and how it will apply to their life. 
    • Make it story-like. When you include elements of story in your sermon, it will come alive and grab the listener’s heart.

  3. How can I incorporate real, “this-week” illustrations?
    • Here-and-now examples resonate with the here-and-now person living in our media-driven culture. When you connect God’s word with cultural illustrations, your listener is more likely to connect the dots back to God’s word when they see or think about that example later – a currently popular movie or show versus a movie 30 years old.
    • Do the hard work of coming up with metaphors and colloquial phrases that are being used today and avoid the temptation to fall back into what you’re comfortable with. You’ll connect the word of God written a long time ago to the world happening around your audience if you do this.
    • If you use an illustration out of the Bible, make sure you thoroughly explain it. Keep in mind that many people in your ministry are biblically illiterate.

  4. How do I incorporate “John the Baptist format”?
    • The John the Baptist format phrase is inspired by a Ted Talk by Nancy Duarte called The Secret Structure of Great Talks and named accordingly because John the Baptist says that he needed to decrease and Jesus needed to increase.
    • Your sermon should start with the pain or struggle and end up where the Gospel resolves and wins the day. Take your audience on a journey through a series of mountaintops (what life could be) and valleys (what life is). As you progress through your message, make each mountaintop higher than the last, and conclude by revealing the solution that only Jesus brings. 
    • This format illustrates the juxtaposition of pain and struggle with the grace and mercy of the resurrection and how it applies throughout their life, even in their struggles. Don’t forget to always lead with more joy and show how the Gospel always wins.

3. Preparation Tips

  1. Collaborate. Gather weekly as a group for a giant brainstorming session around the scripture. Ask the other attendees what they see that maybe you don’t. Ask the four questions (above) and take notes. It’s important to hear how God’s word is speaking to others on your team.
  2. Take Notes. The week of, make notes of all your thoughts as you percolate on the message. Use your phone to take a voice memo.
  1. However you’d say it – write it that way. Write in a colloquial conversation style. It’s ok to write in contractions and not full sentences at times. Close the door and start talking and typing if necessary. 
  2. Edit, edit, edit. Don’t just write your sermon and put it away. The more you can edit your message, the better engaged your listener will become. How can you make the mountains higher or the valleys lower?

As a pastor, you’re doing the heavy lifting of writing and delivering sermons that reach more people for Jesus. It’s an important job. I pray you find this process helpful. May God’s spirit continue to speak through you in a wonderful way. Thank you for what you do.

Listen to the entire podcast here

Do you want to get your leaders re-energized and dreaming about the future, thinking about “what could be” for your congregation? Check out these 4 ways to help mobilize your leaders so your congregation grows:

1. Download our Avoiding Pastor-Leads-It-All Syndrome Guide for 5 easy steps I’ve used to find the right group of people who will help carry the load and bring growth to your ministry. 

2. Use our 31-Day Faith@Work Devotional to help your congregation see Jesus in all areas of their life, especially in their work

3. Learn more about our Clarify Our Calling Workshop: a one-day, in-person workshop that activates growth in your congregation while building buy-in for change. 

4. Book a free growth strategy session. Let’s talk about how we can help your leaders start the kinds of initiatives that will grow your church and transform your community.

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