How to Write and Deliver a Sermon
Lasting anywhere from a few minutes to nearly an hour, sermons are typically delivered at gatherings of worshippers or congregational celebrations. These talks are meant to provoke religious and spiritual conversations while also providing specific lessons based on scriptures. While once used only in churches and houses of spiritual worship, evolving technology has allowed for the dissemination of religious ideas on a grander scale, utilizing several forms of media, from email to popular video platforms.
If you are interested in writing your own sermons, then you can follow the information presented on this page. However, if you are looking for inspiration or sermon templates, then you can review the available sermons published on the website of Universal Life Church Ministries.
Finding Your Jumping Off Point
Looking at the blank page or screen can be troubling for many writers, so it is beneficial to have a few go-to ideas that can act as your jumping off point. For instance, since inspiration is the key when delivering a sermon, you may want to look to things that inspire you. For example, are there any biblical passages or spiritual quotes that you read when you are feeling down or need motivation? If so, is there anything specific about that passage that triggers those feelings? Better still, what is your emotional response? Joy? Determination? What is happening in society that relates to these feelings or ideas? Beyond the grand worldview, how does the reading apply to your daily struggles? Writing a sermon is more than describing scripture in layman’s terms, it's about making the readings approachable and relatable, and there’s no better way to do this than by relating it to you personally.
As we already touched on, connecting your sermon to real-world examples is a great approach to writing. If you can take complicated spiritual text and explain it in a way that is approachable, then people will connect with you. Don’t be afraid of your personal struggle either. Most people understand that we all have spiritual battles, and it is OK to admit that, even as a minister. Touching on struggles is crucial because it helps people understand that faith is about the journey to belief and spirituality, acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers can be refreshing and illuminating.
However, shining a spotlight on your experiences with spirituality and personal revelations can aid in the development of others’ faith and spiritual journey. While these personal stories can help make the ideas of faith more approachable, be sure to support your sermons with the lives of teachers before you through the use of holy books and scripture. This balance of personal and scriptural speaking will demonstrate the commonality of human problems and the answers that are already provided through the word.
While you may find the technical dissection of religious passages through exposition and exegesis riveting, your congregation may not. Many people find the complex, intricate and dense information in scriptures to be intimidating, and they may tune out to a sermon that is hyper-focused on the intricacies of the language in a biblical passage. The key to a great sermon is to remember relatability and approachability. Don’t let your fascination with the Word alienate your congregation.
Know Your Audience
While we have already stressed this point, it is worth reiterating and expanding on it a little further. Know your audience. It is a common phrase among public speakers and for a good reason. People do not like to listen to people that they cannot relate to, that is why the language you use during your sermon is so crucial. The wrong words can alienate your congregation while the right words can bring them together. The most significant word in your arsenal is the unifying “we” because it is an inclusive term rather than a divisive word like “you.” Saying, “We can all relate…” is inviting and helps to establish community. Saying, “You should relate…” is condemning and separative. Granted, “you” phrases are not permanently removed from your vocabulary, just reserve its use for more personal and intimate settings.
In the same way you should try to avoid exclusive phrasing, you should prevent singling out. Most people cherish their privacy and would not appreciate being called out from the pulpit. This does not mean that you must avoid referencing conversation or interactions, it merely means avoiding specifically identifying someone by name or characteristic.
Fleshing Out the Details
Now that you have found your inspiration and you know your audience, it is time to begin fleshing out the details of your sermon. There is a plethora of available material from religious scholars, media and several other informational outlets. It can be intimidating to narrow the list of potential resources, but that is your job as a minister or priest, to organize and research your thoughts so that your congregation understands your intent. To help you narrow down your list of references, you may choose from:
- Current events
- Life experience
- Scripture and other holy teachings
- Religious commentaries by notable scholars
- Art, literature, music, poetry
While the main point of a sermon is to make spiritual lessons and text relatable, the execution of that process varies wildly. For example, if you choose to speak about somewhat upsetting or contentious cultural topics, then it may be wise to illuminate a scriptural measure that aids in unifying the opposing sides. Additionally, you may wish to discuss something more personal, attempting to humanize yourself with your congregation and allowing them to see how you overcome personal struggles with faith.
Whether you choose to walk the controversial path or take a more reflective journey, the crucial element is to bring it back to scripture. All sermons don’t have to be big emotional shows. In fact, sometimes it is better to focus on the fundamentals of faith: love, charity and hope. No matter what message you choose to deliver, be sure to do research and understand the argument you are making.
Put in the Time
While you may sit in awe listening to great sermon deliveries, shocked at the effortless execution, know that these renowned homilists did not just write that beautiful 45-minute sermon that morning. Depending on the length of the sermon, it can take most practiced ministers anywhere from one day to a week to prepare the sermon you hear.
Keep in mind that not every sermon deserves equal time. For instance, you may spend a week or more preparing a message for Easter or Christmas, but only spend a day for an ordinary Sunday. The reason is simple, grand ceremonies require grand messages, but routine worship demands relatable and insightful sermons. These are just easier to write because they are relatable. You have experiences every day that can be compiled into a valuable and insightful lesson. However, while it is necessary to get your thoughts down quickly, it is also crucial to edit those thoughts to make them as impactful as possible.
Writing sermons should be equal parts fun and work. The writing process, first drafts, edits, rewrites, requires time and patience. This is why it is practical to save copies of your sermons because it allows you to save time by revisiting research and possibly, years down the line, revisiting a sermon.
Writing and sharing sermons is an opportunity for your own spiritual growth as well as a challenge for you to help enlighten others through your own experiences and revelations. No matter what topic you decide to discuss or how you choose to address it, always remember to make your message approachable, relatable and unifying.