Part 5: Writing the Manuscript
Before writing the actual preaching manuscript, I have a number of papers on which I’ve taken notes during my study. These papers range from the copies of that week’s sermon text (see here for an explanation) to numerous sheets of notebook paper on which I’ve taken notes from the commentaries. On the former I will have most of the exegetical data which I have discovered in the study process. On the latter I will have pertinent quotes, illustrations or exegetical insights from the commentaries (these are usually only a brief description accompanied by the author’s last name and page number). I may or may not use this material in my sermon manuscript. These are merely the items that struck me as I read the various commentaries. I will also work through various potential homiletical or “preaching” outlines on a sheet of notebook paper. I never begin writing my manuscript till I have a preaching outline. It may not be the best possible outline, but at a certain point and time I have to go with what I have.
I usually do not begin writing my sermon manuscript until Saturday evening, sometimes later. I try to go to bed by 10 or 11 pm on Saturday night after meditating on the product of my studies for the week. I will often read a book on Saturday to allow my mind to take a break from the intense study of the week. This book may or may not have something to do with the topic(s) of the week’s text. I set my alarm for anywhere from 5 am to 7 am on Sunday morning depending upon the state of the manuscript at bedtime on Saturday.
Writing my sermon manuscript takes anywhere from 2 to 4 hours. This is one reason that I’m able to sometimes wait until early Sunday morning to write the manuscript. Keep in mind that this is after all the study has been done, all the commentaries read, and everything is somewhat organized. Also, please realize that I’m not recommending this schedule for you. It fits with my schedule right now. I can conceive of a much better schedule in which the manuscript is written by Thursday or Friday and then a day off before preaching on Sunday. One thing my current schedule does provide though is a sense of freshness, but this no doubt could be “preserved” by certain means for an alternate schedule.
I use a template for my sermon manuscript that allows me to print two pages on each 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper (see here for an example). The first thing I do is plug in my title and text. I usually don’t have a catchy title, it is merely descriptive. I spend zero amount of time trying to be cute in my sermons. If they are cute it is accidental and natural. Second, I plug in the main point titles and the scripture references upon which those points are based (if you don’t have scripture references for your main points, your sermon may not be biblical). The EXP, ILL, and APP are vestigial reminders to explain, illustrate and apply each main point. This is a worthy goal, but not all texts can be forced into a cookie-cutter mold (and none should be forced). Obviously, each main point needs to be explained. My goal is that each of my sermons have only one “real” point, the point of the passage. The main points (I, II, III, …) should each serve to develop the main point of the passage/message. I usually don’t have subpoints. I find them to merely confuse both me and the hearer about what the message is really about. Also each point needs to be illustrated. An illustration helps explain the unfamiliar in familiar terms which the hearer will understand. This can be done in a variety of ways. This is the weakest area of my sermons. It is an area where I constantly must be working. Finally, I try to apply each main point. My default tendency would be to save all application to the end of the sermon, but all truth needs to be applied to the hearer. Therefore each major point should be applied to the congregation (this tells the hearer what he or she is to do as a result of what God’s Word says). I personally believe that this is the ultimate difference between “preaching” and “teaching”. Teaching communicates facts, but preaching calls for a response to those facts.
I usually do what the textbooks say and wait to write my introduction and conclusion last. How else, the experts say, do you know what you are introducing or concluding? An excellent point, but when I begin writing my manuscript I usually already know what I’m introducing and concluding. Therefore, if I come across material that would be excellent for an introduction or a conclusion, or if I have an idea of how I want to word my introduction or conclusion, I will often go ahead and write those sections before the rest of the manuscript is complete. I may even have ideas jotted down on notebook paper before I begin writing the manuscript. I may also write all the text under each main point simultaneously (alternating back and forth) or straight through. Each week is different and I never know how any manuscript will turn out until it’s finished.
What I am calling my “manuscript” some would probably call merely an “expanded outline.” It usually consists of only 4-6 half sheets (5.5 x 8.5) in which all my notes are crammed as tightly as possible (see here for an example). It is essentially the same as what I post on the web on Sunday afternoons (lightly edited). After writing the manuscript, printing it off, and cutting the full sheets in two half sheets in order to fit inside my Bible, all that remains is to preach the sermon! I will discuss the actual preaching of the sermon in my next (final?) post.