the shape of leadership

Mapping Out Your Sermon

How to keep from getting lost while preaching

Chris Colvin on October 3, 2019

Have you ever gotten lost in a sermon? Sunday morning is the absolute worst time for that to happen. But it’s just as easy to get lost during your sermon prep or sermon writing.

A pastor friend of mine got lost one Sunday while preaching. It was unusual because this pastor always has some of the best notes possible. He always manuscripts each message and sticks to the manuscript almost verbatim. But sticking too close to notes ended up getting him lost.

You see, my friend was preaching Part 2 of a four-part series. The on-screen graphics, the handouts, even the response time and worship set were all based on the second part of his series. But just before leaving his office that morning, the pastor accidentally grabbed his notes for Part 3 instead. Now, in the middle of his introduction, it hit him. He was lost and had to find his way back.

Maybe you’ve never been that lost before. But chances are you’ve wandered too far away from your prepared notes or moved too far from your intended message. It can happen to the best of us. And to become better preachers, we need to make sure we map out our sermons so we stay on track.

Know Where You’re Going

The best way to keep from getting lost in your sermon is to know where you’re going. Your people trust you to know the way. They want to go on the journey with you each Sunday morning. So you better know where you’re going and where you’re taking them.

Without a destination, you aren’t really going anywhere. Sometimes it’s fun to head out the door, get in your car and just start driving, without a care in the world. It’s what we call Sunday driving. But on Sunday morning, you need to be more focused.

Each sermon you preach needs to lead to a specific point. That’s not to say you can’t have multiple points. But always think of them as subpoints that support the main point. What is your main idea? Once you’ve identified it, write it down. Keep it in front of you during the sermon prep and writing process.

While you’re preaching, keep that main point in focus. No matter how you write your notes, whether a short outline or a word-for-word manuscript, repeat the main idea at several points. Remind listeners where you are taking them.

Having a single point of focus for your message is vital to successful preaching. There will be times when you feel your message could go in multiple directions.

Having a single point of focus for your message is vital to successful preaching.

You could even apply your sermon in multiple ways. That’s fine. But at the end of each message, make sure people know the one main thing you want them to know.

From ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B’

It’s easy to come up with a main idea for each message. It’s harder to go from introduction to conclusion without losing the congregation.

Think of your sermon like a trip you’re taking. You have other people following you. You want to make sure they follow closely so they don’t get lost. If you take a direct route, they’re more likely to stay with you. But if you start veering off in multiple directions, down side streets or winding highways, you increase their chances of getting lost.

Another way to make sure those following you stay with you is to give them directions along the way. Telling them where you’re taking them and how you’re going to get there will ensure they stick with you. Now, let’s translate that into your Sunday morning sermon.

A road map for your sermon can take any number of shapes — from a simple introduction, three points and a conclusion to working your way through a complicated Bible passage. No matter how you organize your thoughts, finding a specific pathway can help you stay focused. Here are three ways to remain laser-focused throughout your preparation, writing and preaching:

Answer a question. Identify a specific question people in your congregation are asking. It may be something personal: “How can I be a better parent?” It can be more abstract: “What does forgiveness look like?” Once you have that question in mind, frame your main idea in the form of an answer. Now, go about answering that question throughout your sermon, and listeners will remain glued on the response.

Solve a problem. In the same way, think of a problem that needs solving. It may be practical, like how to break a tough habit, or more complicated, like how to deal with an unsaved spouse. As you work through your message, present one or more solutions to that problem. Each solution should support your main idea and maintain the interest of listeners.

Set a goal. Your church members have all kinds of goals they want to set and accomplish. Think of one or two that are pressing on them now, like getting out of debt or finding a godly spouse. Your sermon can present ways to achieve that goal using sound biblical guidance.

Stay on track, and you should never get lost — or lose your listeners. It’s really all about mapping out your sermon and sticking to your map. If you do that, your effectiveness as a preacher will increase, your congregation’s focus on your sermons will tighten, and your church’s spiritual health will grow.

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