While every pastor has different ways to approach the process of sermon preparation, I would humbly suggest a word of advice once his message manuscript/outline/Post It Note is ready for takeoff on Sunday. Don’t preach it if you think it’s good. I would argue there are more checkpoints to consider than simply finishing your sermon notes. Indeed, I want to encourage you to work through these suggested iterations between now and Sunday in order that at the end of each stage you still believe it’s good. In other words, you need more times to keep saying, “This is good.” The following are four more opportunities you need to give yourself to still see if you can affirm your message as good to go:
- STAGE #1: WRITE IT. Simply put, this is where you finish your notes for Sunday. You think it’s good because it’s fresh on your mind and, frankly, because you’re finally done with it.
- STAGE #2: EDIT IT. The most beneficial thing I do once my initial notes are completed is take a red marker and work through each page. I’m amazed (as well as discouraged) how editing allows me to catch unhelpful digressions, misaligned ideas, fuzzy illustrations, and other elements of the message that need retracting, adding, or moving. It’s usually after this stage where I say to myself, “I can’t believe I was going to stand in front of thousands and preach without these edits! Finally, this is good.” But you’re not done.
- STAGE #3: TALK IT. A great manuscript does not equal a great message. Preaching is an oral medium therefore talking through your message out loud can be incredibly beneficial. You may find that what works on paper doesn’t work in the pulpit. Often I catch myself thinking, “But that sounded so good in my head!” However, I frequently discover elements in my message that need reworking simply because they need to be written for the spoken word and not the written one. Now, it’s a good to go. But still there’s more.
- STAGE #4 PREACH IT. There is a dynamic preaching to a congregation that cannot be duplicated by talking through your message with your spouse on Saturday night (thanks honey for listening to me anyway). I can’t explain it fully. Nevertheless, it’s true. There are times in preaching where you see certain elements of your message that connect better than others. Other times you say things extemporaneously that God uses in great ways. You think: “Man, I wish I had written that down.” Do it! After the service write those thoughts, phrases, illustrations, etc., back into your notes. Often during the actual preaching event we say unscripted things to give a better flow to our messages or because we feel certain elements need further explanation. This is gold. Don’t throw it away. Capture it. If you preach multiple services this is extremely beneficial. It’s also a plus if you ever get to preach that message again in the future.
Regardless how you approach sermon preparation, don’t allow yourself only one time to think your message is good for Sunday. Create several opportunities to evaluate it before getting into the pulpit. In walking through these steps you may realize it wasn’t as good as you originally thought. But because you installed a process with various checkpoints you can possess some measure of confidence that, while the Lord must grant his grace in the preaching event, you have a message you feel is ready to go.
P.S. Before you actually finish your manuscript/notes for Sunday. I would suggest STAGE #0 – PITCH IT. This is where you give a five minute thumbnail sketch to a buddy or two of your rough, unfinished sermon path. I call it a “pitch” because you essentially walk in on Monday afternoon and say, “Hey, do you have five minutes? Cool. Here’s what I’m thinking for Sunday.” Then you proceed to “pitch” your brief message idea to your staff friends. Their reflection about your main idea, sermon flow, and other half-baked elements can be the difference between starting strong or stumbling out of the blocks in your following preparation.
So PITCH it. WRITE it. EDIT it. TALK it. PREACH it.