Peter Scazzero

preaching skill

The Life Cycle of the Sermon

Most sermons follow a similar pattern: birth, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.

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In his 25 years of preaching, Pete Scazzero, pastor of New Life Church in Queens, New York, has noticed a pattern for his sermon preparation process. Scazzero calls it "The Life Cycle of the Sermon," and he claims that his sermons follow this cycle at least 95 percent of the time. This cycle involves five remarkably consistent phases—birth, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. (Sound familiar?) In this candid interview, Scazzero analyzes this pattern and coaches preachers in how to journey through each stage of the cycle.

What do you mean by the birth of a sermon? What does that look like for the preacher during a normal week?

The birth of a sermon starts with a lot of energy. A sermon is birthed when I get excited about a big idea or a particular passage of Scripture, and I can't wait to share it with others. So I plunge into my exegesis and my study. It's all so rich and enjoyable. My soul is getting fed. My mind is filled with possibilities.

God is speaking to me through this text. It's alive. So, initially, I think, Okay, it spoke to me. Now it's going to speak to everybody. At this stage of the sermon prep process, I love preaching. I also love preaching when I finally get to stand up and preach. But something happens between this initial infatuation stage and the sermon delivery phase. I almost forget that it's never as easy as just getting excited about a text. There's a long journey ahead of me. Death is coming. Burial is coming. I find that these must come if there is going to be a resurrection in the sermon

What do you mean by the death of a sermon? How does the preacher experience this "death"?

Soon after this energizing birth phase, I realize that I have to actually put these notes and meanderings into some kind of coherent message by Sunday. And generally that's when death begins. I realize my message isn't clear. I have twelve points, not one main point. I've got nine scattered but interesting thoughts, not one solid message that's been developed. I have to take all of my exciting possibilities and put them into a limited message of thirty to thirty-five minutes.

At this point I usually begin to feel I've got nothing to say. I begin to think, I must be crazy thinking that I can speak for God. How is God going to shape something beautiful out of all this chaos of study, exegesis, and good ideas?

If you're preaching on a regular basis, God is going to do a great deal work of spiritual formation in your heart—if you let him.

Most preachers I know rarely talk about this, but do you actually know anyone who doesn't go through this? It's the feeling that the message is never going to come together. It's a painful feeling. Frightening might be a better word. It is certainly a kind of death.

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Scott Vermillion

February 11, 2013  10:25am

Thanks for sharing your journey in preaching. I love the analysis, and it speaks true of the process that happens to me each week. It is easy to think that I don't have what it takes because the process of getting the message out seems to always take more time than I think it will. I appreciate your encouragement to see each part of the life cycle as important. I especially like your coaching on ascension. It's hard to let a sermon go and trust that God will use it however he wishes.

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Elder wells

February 06, 2013  11:57am

The word be like firery cannon ball just birthing forth with power. If the word dies its because its not being used the word will always stand. You know it's God so you have love to preach to those who want to hear it or not.

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February 06, 2013  12:01am

Thank you for your great insights. The term "Death stage" very well expresses one very serious dilemma that serious preachers are supposed to experience in their sermon preparation.

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Shug Bury

February 05, 2013  12:29pm

It is hard to describe to other's how God allows us to experience the message before it is even given. A painful yet sanctifying process. Thank you for the clear and discerning voice of wisdom. In preparation for the prison service this weekend, I will keep your article on the fresh on my mind.

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Rosalie Kwak

February 04, 2013  4:42pm

You're right Pete, It is easy to think you are crazy as you enter the "death" phase. Afraid that even all you've discovered and thought you've gained will be lost and is for naught. and then somehow God finds the gold in the dirt and shows it to you. I appreciate very much how you have articulated this process and gave examples from your own sermon journey. I find all of your thoughts helpful. Thank-you!

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