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Bryan Wilkerson: How I Prepare a Sermon

Helping you develop your signature method of preparing a message

Editor's note: As preachers develop their signature method of sermon preparation over the years, they often enhance their process by "cherry picking" from the sermon prep schedules and checklists of others. When someone preaches in a way that consistently intrigues and speaks to us, and we wonder how they do it, the answer may well be found in those schedules and checklists.

PreachingToday.com: Are there key questions you normally answer, or paths of thought you typically take, as you study a text and write the sermon?

Bryan Wilkerson: Some important questions I regularly ask are

  • What's the purpose of preaching this sermon?
  • What do I want people to think, feel, or do as a result?
  • How would a seeker hear this? I try to imagine one of my neighbors or a seeker I've spoken with recently sitting in the service.
  • What's funny about this? I'm always on the hunt for humor that flows naturally out of the text or theme of the message. Does it bring to mind any funny stories or experiences I've had? Does a truth get comical if taken to an extreme?
  • What would happen if this truth were wrongly understood or applied?
  • Am I fairly representing a position, belief, or practice I am critiquing? For example, if I were teaching on Islam and my Muslim neighbor was sitting in the front row, would he feel accurately and sensitively represented? It's the same when dealing with homosexuality, abortion, atheism, and so on.
  • Is there something here for kids to connect to, such as an application, illustration, or phrase that lets them know the message is for them, too?

What schedule routine do you follow in sermon preparation?

Wilkerson: My preparation begins with an overnight study retreat where I get away with a pile of books, Bible, legal pad, running shoes, and a carton of orange juice. I lay out the next series or season of messages with a text and big idea for each, along with worship suggestions for the creative team.

Most of my sermon work is done the week I'm preaching. I study at home for a few hours on Monday morning, mainly working with the text itself, but also with a couple of commentaries. I'll do free associating of ideas, images, and cultural connections with movie scenes, pop songs, poems. On Monday afternoon I sit for 30 to 45 minutes with our pastor of worship and arts, and we kick the idea around and brainstorm illustrations and ideas.

Tuesday is my day off. I don't usually do any "hard" preparation, but I'm turning the idea over in my head as I do yard work, exercise, and so on. Lots of creative thoughts happen on Tuesday.

Wednesday is mostly meetings, so I get little studying done, but often my sermon ideas are clarified in our two-hour, creative-team meeting as we finalize the service orders for upcoming Sundays.

On Thursday I have three to four hours of study time that I spend in the commentaries and doing internet scavenging. Ideally I have a rough, two-page outline by noon.

On Friday I spend six to eight hours manuscripting the sermon, beginning early in the morning and working straight through till early afternoon. Ideally I get three-fourths of the rough draft completed.

On Saturday I finish writing the rough manuscript by breakfast. Then I spend three to six hours over the course of the day, evening, and wee hours editing and refining the manuscript. I send the manuscript off to the media team.

On Sunday I wake up very early for three hours of finalizing, "learning," and marking up the manuscript, which I take into the pulpit for occasional referencing.

Of course, my prayer preparation begins on the retreat and continues daily throughout the writing week.

Bryan Wilkerson is pastor of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.

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