Six steps of sermon preparation

In Do your word counts measure up, Rosanne Bane describes her six-step process for writing. As much of it is also applicable to preaching, here’s a summary translated into preacher-ish:

Stage 1: First Insight
When looking for your next sermon, you’re asking, “What if, how about, why not…?”

This is when you should be reading widely to see what grabs your attention, completing an Interest Inventory, freewriting, clustering, mind mapping, and using other brainstorming methods [+ prayer].

Stage 2: Saturation
This is what we usually call exegesis:

In this research stage you seek as much information as you can about the topic, characters, setting, etc.

Stage 3: Incubation
As you’ve probably gathered too much information to make immediate sense of, let it sit, and go do something else as your subconscious mind sifts the data for associations and connections.

Patience is essential during Incubation; cracking the egg open early to see what’s happening inside only kills the chick…You might take a walk or a nap, freewrite questions and answers, try to explain the problem to someone else, cluster, brainstorm, doodle, or get your body busy.

Stage 4: Illumination
The flash of insight, breakthrough, the Eureka moment, whatever you call it, it’s he best feeling of the week, when everything starts fitting together. Jot down your theme, your dominant thought, your structure, etc.

Stage 5: Verification
This is where you start drafting your sermon, trying to make something tangible out of the illumination.

But don’t try to draft and revise at the same time. Letting your early drafts be imperfect approximations of what you’re trying to write is really the most effective approach.

Stage 6: Hibernation
For the preacher, this is probably Monday, when the primary task for the day is “to recharge your batteries and restore your creative energy.”

You need to do whatever renews your creative spirit. Look at beautiful images or art. Listen to beautiful music. Be in beautiful natural spaces. Garden, walk, sit by a lake or river, rest, wait. Give yourself time to just be; it’s the only way you can fill yourself up and have something to share again.

Come Tuesday, you start hearing some familiar questions again: “What if, why not, how about…”

Check out

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Like the Video? I wrote the book
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Children’s Bible Reading Plan (80)

This week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

If you want to start at the beginning, the first 12 months of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

And here’s the first 12 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

And here’s an explanation of the plan.

Should we praise unbelievers?

Should we praise unbelievers? Should we affirm them when they make any progress or improvements in their lives? And should we encourage them to see any achievements as God-given?

In Practicing Affirmation, Sam Crabtree answers with a triple “Yes!” And offers persuasive arguments. For example:

In the same way that Yellowstone Park is a reflection of common grace, unregenerate persons reflect graces not intrinsic to themselves. To affirm the beauty of their character is to draw attention to the undeserved grace that God has bestowed upon them in the form of faint echoes of Jesus, even in the presence of as-of-yet unperfected flaws in those same individuals. In the providence of God, some unbelievers are actually better behaved than some believers. This behavior is God’s gift to them, not their intrinsically meritorious character (32).

Contrary voices
But, I can hear others voices saying, “They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). Is not even the ploughing of the wicked sin (Prov. 21:4)? Does not the wrath of God rest on the unbeliever (John 3:36)?  And what about “There’s none that does good, no not one” (Rom. 3:12)?

If all that is true, what’s the point in praising and affirming unbelievers. Is that not like admiring a car’s shiny paintwork as it heads over the cliff? “Jump, run, escape for your life,” seems more appropriate.

Biblical knife-edge
So how do we balance on this biblical knife-edge. We don’t want to fall off on the side of encouraging unbelievers in pharisaical self-righteousness. But neither do we want to treat all unbelievers as if they are Hannibal Lecter. Here’s a guide to waking the knife:

  • We should recognize God’s work/image wherever it appears, even in the life of an unbeliever.
  • We should trace all good to God, and encourage unbelievers to see any good, any progress, any improvement as the gift of God
  • We should regularly remind unbelievers that although it’s good to be/do good (at least it’s better than being/doing evil), that’s not good enough – they need to be born again, they need to repent and believe the Gospel.
  • The best good works, even the best believer’s best works, are full of imperfection and weakness, and need to be repented of.
  • We should sometimes remind unbelievers that our commendations and affirmations are only from a human perspective. God’s view may be very different and at the end of the day is the only one that matters.

And this is the one area I’d have liked to see Sam develop a bit further in his book: What is a good work from God’s perspective? And as a starting point, where better than the Westminster Confession’s chapter 16, “Of Good Works.”

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands; and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God, they are therefore sinful and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God: and yet, their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing unto God.

In answer to the question, then, Should we praise unbelievers?” Yes, but make sure it’s regularly set in a wider Law/Gospel context that stirs the unbeliever to seek the only one who is good, that is God (Matthew 19:17).

Practicing Affirmation Review (1): Scots don’t do praise
Practicing Affirmation Review (2): 10 ways to praise people
Practicing Affirmation Review (3): Is the “sandwich method” a lot of baloney?
Practicing Affirmation Review (4): Should we praise unbelievers?

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