A Pastor’s Guide on How to Write Life Changing Sermons
In this post, I quickly reveal a Pastor’s Guide on how to write life changing sermons.
Effective Preachers Write Life Changing Sermons
One thing which boils my blood is Preachers who get up without notes. I understand some have them yet don't bring them at preaching time. Point taken.
However, there are too many who produce none at all. This is "trifling" and should be repented of. The biblical writers have blessed us far beyond their lifetime(s) yet we refuse succeeding generations the same blessing?
No – this isn’t about building our legacy either! God forbid. However, God didn’t withhold from you, especially in our generation, this ability. It is often simply an attitude of laziness and arrogance quite frankly.
However, learning how to write a sermon is crucial to effective ministry. The way a sermon is structured should not depend on who you are. Whoa – let me explain. Your audience should be the primary focus, if not from a content perspective, certainly how it is delivered.
There is a misguided belief within church leadership that who we are is more important than what people need. Arrogant is the Preacher who declares: “I have to be who God made me before anything else.”
Yes, you have to be authentic but you must be authentically obedient as well. Remember that scripture also teaches: “love does not seek its own way” (1st Corinthians 13:5).
This is an eloquent way of saying “love does not try to control”! We, God’s Preachers, are called to serve above every other thing. When we seek our own way we cannot serve others.
Flexibility is key in sermon preparation and delivery.
The Apostle Paul said: “and unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; for that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some (1st Corinthians 9:20-22).
Not only did Paul refuse compromise, but he encouraged us to the same. Compromise and flexibility, in ministry, are not the same thing. Comprise is backing down from core beliefs, while flexibility is maintaining beliefs but changing delivery methods.
Further, the end goal should be leading people to salvation in Jesus Christ. To focus strictly on writing what ‘we think’, and neglect what God’s people need is disobedience.
I currently Pastor a church which is quite traditional.
My natural presentation style is talking in normal conversational tones. However, our congregation requires someone to demonstrate a more intense delivery style.
Were I to preach in the manner best suited to me, the growth God’s people experience would not occur. How can they grow while sleeping during my presentation?
Prepare for Your Audience Before Yourself
It is much more profitable for teachers to know who hearers are before working on presentation. Again, this is not to suggest audiences should drive ‘content’.
However, congregation's love catchy titles like this:
Nevertheless, I heard a misguided Pastors declare: “those words should be delivered only by a Pastor so the audience will receive it.” There are so many things non-doctrinal about that statement!
Sure, we pray the Word changes lives, and it surely does for some.
There are yet others however, who simply need to be warned, and will not receive the Word. Even Jesus preached to people who rejected Him.
Also, God told the Prophet Ezekiel: “tell them whether they will hear or refuse to. They are a stiff-necked people”.
Whether they ‘receive’ or not, let the Holy Ghost provide content while you remain flexible on delivery.
Effective content, when coupled with flexible delivery, leads to changed lives. Just such a new belief was demonstrated in John chapter 4. This is the interaction between our Messiah and the woman at the well.
Jesus’ message to her was delivered a bit differently than to the woman with the alabaster box, however. Although both women were obviously ‘broken’, Jesus treated their wounds individually.
What if Jesus, to either woman, began by speaking about seed used by farmers? That would have been inappropriate, ineffective, and wouldn’t have opened the door for salvation.
For instance, the woman at the well spent her life drawing water. Her personal life was a mess, but she understood the importance of water. Jesus, therefore, spoke to her about Him "being the living water."
What does your audience understand the importance of? How can you deliver on their Holy Ghost need(s)?
Allow the Holy Spirit to Choose When You Preach
If you understand the audience, it is time to begin the writing process. Nevertheless, all preaching opportunities should not be accepted.
How is it possible to filter out when and when not to preach? Did Jesus Christ take every opportunity to speak? At certain times He did, while at others He said nothing even when asked (or provoked).
The Holy Spirit, through prayer and supplication, will lead you. One of those time to really pray is if invited to preach to a rebellious congregation. Some church leaders invite another to say what they cannot or will not.
I have been in this situation.
The idea was that if a congregation will not listen to their shepherd, perhaps an outside voice is better. That is a flawed premise! Whether they listen to any man or not is irrelevant.
The more pertinent question is why aren’t they listening to the Holy Spirit? Any person, or group, who doesn’t listen to God, will not listen to those He sends. Isn’t that one of the greatest lessons in the execution Jesus?
Our Savior put it best: “Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also (John 15:20).”
Here is that text with the bigger thought:
People who don't listen to the Holy Spirit filled leader God sent, will only "act" as if they are listening.
Let me be clear: if God called you into the ministry of a Prophet, and you are assured of such, allow the spirit to lead. The gifts in Ephesians 4 are ordained for a reason. Too often, our Pastors confront situations they are ill-suited to deal with.
Prophets are still relevant and ordained for the edification of the Body of Jesus Christ.
Writing a Sermon Means Listening to the Holy Ghost
Now let’s begin the sermon preparation process proper. Is there a particular scripture the Holy Spirit has brought to your attention? Sermon preparation begins with revelation of the Holy Spirit.
Those God calls, He equips. In those moments when I am 100% sure the Holy Spirit has provided revelation, escape becomes impossible.
No matter how distracted I become, I cannot escape ‘it’ until the Word is delivered.
Here is an example.
In the Book of Ruth chapter 1, around verse 20, we see something powerful. Naomi had returned to her ancestral town (Bethlehem) after experiencing family loss in Moab. Naomi, and due to the loss she experienced, changed her name to ‘Mara’.
This name change was precipitated through a revealing testimony. She had lost both her husband and sons.
Her testimony in verse 21 cornered me with nowhere for me to escape to: “no longer call me Naomi call me Mara. The Lord has dealt treacherously with me. He has sent me out full, and I have returned here empty.”
I could not escape this statement: “the Lord sent me out full, and I returned empty.” WOW!
When I was a boy, and got into fist fights. Whoever got the first headlock on their opponent usually won. In the spirit, I was in a headlock and was not going anywhere!
This 'headlock turned into a six (6) week sermon series titled: "Lord I am Struggling"
Once text has been revealed, identify the context of the passage. I am not suggesting going all ‘seminary’ on context.
Nevertheless, effective sermons begin with setting the scene of the passage.
With that said, get into context and quickly get out. A part of preaching is inspirational, while another part is informational.
If your audience requires a more clinical delivery then provide it. Nevertheless, the preaching hour is not the time for a thoroughly contextual presentation.
It is beautiful to understand the historical, literary, and cultural context of the passage.
However, is that what the Holy Spirit sent you there to deliver? Probably not. Leave the ‘seminary’ and professorship non-sense to religious educators.
There is a reason why our Professors are rarely our Evangelist!
Your Sermon Title Must Grab the Audience’s Attention
Here are sermon topics that, while true, are not attention grabbers:
How to Show Forgiveness to Others
Letting Go of the Past
Loving the Unlovable
I could add others but you get the point.
In fairness, these titles are accurate, appropriate, and awesome Google search terms. While the truth of scripture does not change, how it is presented should adapt.
Another series I created was titled: "Oh, You Need Me Now Huh?" The title should reflect content. I could have titled it: “Responding to the Needs of Others” but that is ‘blah’ to modern audiences.
Here are the launch notes:
Further, do not become hesitant about applying shocking titles as well! In more traditional churches there are things Pastors are not supposed to say. Well, in some ways, I am not ‘most’ Pastors!
I make a habit of speaking the unspeakable.
Years ago I created a sermon series but the title initially created doubt. Its wording suggested I was encouraging God’s people to CONFRONT Jesus. I titled the series: "Lord I am Angry with You."
This multi-week series available HERE focused on being truthful with the Holy Spirit regardless of ‘religious’ inclinations. One of the calls of your ministry is teaching people to “walk in spirit and in truth.”
Often, the truth needing to be expressed is not because of unholy trepidation. There are things we speak with our hearts that never come out of our mouths. Does that make them less real?
Not according to the teachings of Jesus. When lustfully looking at another, Jesus taught that sins of the heart, are sins of the flesh (Matthew 5:28).
For the sake of simplicity: if your heart conceived ‘it’, whether you do it or speak it, it is still sin. Allow your sermon title to reflect unspoken truth and your audience will sit up and tune in.
Open Your Sermon With Something Interesting
Something crucial to storytelling is, and we are back to this, understanding audience dynamics. For instance, sometimes I open with stories about life altering experiences in corporate America.
This is impactful when preaching to younger, working aged audiences. However, with senior citizens, I tell stories about my mother and lessons learned listening to her instruction. These audiences relate to this more than my corporate experiences.
The right introductory story, anecdote, or parable will immediately catch hearers’ attention. When opening in this manner, it must be heart felt and relative. Reading a story stiffly and off a piece of paper will kill the value.
Further, people want to feel as if you are speaking directly to them. One of the most powerful tools in the ministry of Jesus was His penchant for individual attention.
Further, those ‘hungering and thirsting after righteousness’ must see themselves in the story. For instance and sticking with the earlier example of ‘Naomi’, widows in our church related to the loss of a husband.
Although the sermon was not specifically addressing loss, the historic context was relative.
Additionally, daughters-in-law can see themselves in Ruth, but none were as loyal to their mother-in-law (Naomi)! The more relatable the opening, the more effective the presentation.
The savvy realize that no part of the introduction should go to waste. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting every part, of every scripture, has deeper meaning.
For instance, teaching eugenics and race-based principles using genealogical scripture is wicked. The Apostle Paul warned against debating genealogy, although for different reasons. Sometimes, a sentence is just a sentence even in scripture.
The wise realize if there is 'meat on the bone', pull it off. If it is just a bone, put it down and pick up the next piece of meat. (Let those who have an ear hear)
Sermons Should Show Flaws in Biblical Figures
This is perhaps where my sermon preparation methodology differs from others. God wired me to focus on the macro and not the micro.
Most preachers I know focus on a few scriptures, in an isolated chapter, in one book of the Bible.
My Christian Apologetics Master’s degree professor referred to this as ‘exegesis.’
Let me be clear: although I have advanced education, I would never suggest that such was necessary to preach the Word of God.
I could biblically make the case that religious education is a hindrance if not kept in perspective.
There was a reason I waited until later in life to darken the doors of educational institutions. When I arrived in these places, my initial trepidation proved well founded!
Nevertheless, exegesis is the study of one portion of biblical texts.
To properly ‘exegete’, one must determine the literary, cultural, and historical meaning of the passage. For God called Preachers, the ‘meaning’ is what we most often focus on. Let the educated elite focus on the rest.
As I shared with my professor, if this is the definition of exegesis, it makes no sense. One cannot determine meaning, without understanding the ‘where’ and ‘why’ the need arose to begin with.
I could exegete passages on Jesus’ personal claims to the Messianic Throne in the New Testament. However, if I stick with the New Testament alone, these are nothing more than claims of one man.
Scripture speaks about validity of multiple witnesses: “out of the mouth of two or three witnesses let every word be established.” What better witness of the Old Testament than the New or vice versa?
Yes, in context, this was speaking about church discipline (Matthew 18), however, Jesus also required a public witness to baptism.
Ever wonder why He went to John the Baptist when He could have credibly done so Himself?
In fact, Jesus’ claims to Messiahship originated with Old Testament prophets. Jesus was simply repeating what they wrote. According to a proper exegesis, if I stay in New Testament passages, minus O.T. confirmation, Jesus’ was the source of His own claims.
As a Preacher, you should challenge any theory, even when it seems credible. Just because ‘most scholars’ affirm something does not make it true.
One of the hallmarks of an effective sermon is supporting claims with biblical evidence. Yes, even with the claims of Jesus Christ. If, for example, you are teaching on dealing with depressive symptoms, the examples are legion.
If the focal point is Jeremiah, who obviously suffered with depression, why not offer Job as well?
His despair was great and around Job chapter 38 and almost got the better of him. While you are at it, offer Elijah as well! Remember Elijah's statement: "Lord kill me now I have had enough of this?"
This accomplishes a few things. First, it presents a fact pattern to substantiate your sermon posit. Next, it demonstrates subject command. Finally, it reveals the audience is not alone in their struggles.
It is life changing to think: “if even the great Jeremiah struggled with despair and God used him, I can do so as well.”
Don’t Fear Being Transparent
We no longer live in an era when church leaders are considered above reproach. As a child, local Pastors were viewed in an aspirational manner.
Scripture teaches against such behavior but in a community with little hope, this was a reality.
God’s leaders, even without cause, are now viewed with skepticism. Regardless, an effective tool for preempting buy-in hesitancy is transparency.
This is not a new concept either.
From the time He struggled in the Garden of Gethsemane, to dying on the cross, Jesus provided an example of public transparency. Further, the Apostle Paul was upfront about who he was and how he struggled.
Grabbing and keeping audience attention is one thing, breaking down barriers is quite another. Understanding both Jesus and Paul modelled transparency, are you above doing so?
Sermon preparation, and delivery, should include a transparent show of your humanity.
First, it connects you to audience members struggling with something. This is not to suggest your struggles are the same, only that the basics of the human condition IS struggle.
Next, it demonstrates a humility all too lacking from modern church leaders. So pervasive is this, my brethren were stunned at my initial shows of transparency when I began to Pastor.
Further, transparency removes a tool of Ha Shatan. I discovered this Holy Ghost strategy seemingly by accident.
When I first began to preach, I was a guest speaker at a church. I knew someone in the city where I was preaching and invited them to come. Their response was: “you want me to come in hear you? You and your brother used to be the biggest alcoholics in this town.”
Most people would have frozen up and backed off. I, however, began to do something surprising to both they and I. Not only did I acknowledge the truth of their statement but also shared other terrible things I had done.
I finished with: “but Jesus delivered me from all of that.”
This person was a known exposer of bad deeds of others. Since that day, almost two decades ago, they have never brought my personal shortcomings up again. Scripture teaches: “you judge yourselves, you will be not judge.”
When you judge your actions wrong, you pre-empt the efforts of Satan to accuse and shame.
The largest benefit is your earnestness to the hearer. If, in their mind, a person of stature can be honest, so can they. Doesn’t Scripture command us: “to be an example to the brethren?”
You don’t have to tell everything however! There are things all of us have done that are between us and the Lord only. Yes, I understand Scripture says: “confess your faults one to another.”
However, and as pointed out earlier, scripture does not exist in isolation from other portions of text. That same word tells us: “there is a time to speak, and a time to remain silent.”
Sermon preparation need not be an overwhelming process. As was spoken of earlier, the Holy Ghost must be your guide. What I didn’t say, however, was something quite fundamental to any Jesus sent preacher.
Even despite your best efforts to write down what the Holy Ghost reveals during the week, be open to more on Sunday Morning!