From the Mind to the Manuscript

I posted earlier about my transition from using paper outlines to paper manuscripts to eventually preaching with an iPad. Now, I would like to share with you the process I go through of bringing the sermon from the mind to the manuscript.

Since I work every Sunday (preaching is work and I do it primarily on Sunday!), Monday is my Sabbath day. I spend Monday recuperating, resting, and relaxing from Sunday. Now, since I am presently a bi-vocational pastor (I work in the local school system also), this only happens true to form during the months that school is out. At any rate, the journey to next Sunday’s sermon does not usually start until Tuesday morning.

Usually, sometime between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, the Lord will drop a thought, an idea, an inspiration, a scripture text or an impression of some sort into my spirit in regard to the Word for the coming Sunday. From time to time, I preach sermons in series; in that case, it is just a continuation from the previous week. As an aside, when the Spirit dictates, preaching a series is a rewarding and challenging experience that I enjoy very much. The thought or sermon idea comes from a variety of places. Sometimes it is from a conversation, a news report, a current event, a personal experience, a devotional reading, something I read in a book, journal, newspaper or on the Internet, a scripture, or as the direct result of prayer. By the way, the whole process for me starts with prayer. When I stand on Sunday mornings, I want to be delivering a fresh word that was given to me by Him! Sometimes I start with a text and develop ideas, other times, I start with an idea and search for a text to support the idea. In order to be true to the calling, no matter how good I may think the idea is; if it has no scriptural support, if there is no scripture text or context to support it, it is abandoned.

Once the idea and the text are reconciled, the real work begins! The first task I tackle is the establishment of the integrity of the text. In other words, I have to establish what the text is actually saying. This involves determining, as best it can be determined, the author’s original intent, audience, and setting. This also involves understanding the genre (type of literature) of the text: Is it a historical narrative? Is it poetry? What is the context of the text? How does it fit in the chapter, the book, the Bible? What was the historical setting of the text? Now, at this point the primary resource I focus on is the Bible! If it is a New Testament text, I read the text in the Greek New Testament. (I took several semesters of NT Greek in college and in seminary) If it is an Old Testament text, I read the various Hebrew-English Inter-linear Bibles in my library (I took Hebrew in seminary also, but Hebrew almost “brewed” me! I hope my Hebrew professor doesn’t read this!). I feel that it is important to read the text in the Hebrew and/or the Greek because those are the languages in which the text was originally written. As my NT Greek professor at Mississippi College, Dr. G. Rogers Greene would often say: “It is important that you know or at least know how to handle the text in the original languages because if you don’t know what it meant, you can’t tell what it means!” There are several good Greek and Hebrew Inter-linear Bibles on the market that are excellent for this task if you have not studied the original languages. And of course, the Strong’s and Young’s Concordances are excellent tools to supplement an Inter-linear Bible. After laboring with the Greek texts or looking at the Hebrew Inter-linear Bible, I read as many different English versions as I can (KJV, NASB, ESV, NIV, NRSV, Amplified Bible, etc.), noting where there are substantial differences in the Greek texts, and English translations. I then seek to reconcile those differences by using various lexicons and nail down historical context by using various Bible dictionaries and Bible encyclopedias. All of this is crucial in establishing the integrity of the text! After the integrity of the text has been established, I read the text several times, over and over again! I soak the text in prayer, so that the Spirit might speak to me through the text. By the way, by the time all this is done, it is usually sometime Thursday morning.

I must at this point I must interject that all this study was done manually by hand (actually pulling books off the self) some twenty years ago and I would not get through with my studies until late Friday night or Saturday morning! But! Thank God for the BibleWorks 9, Logos 5, and WordSearch 10 software programs I have invested in across the years. I started using BibleWorks with version 6, Logos with version 3.0 and WordSearch with version 7. Preacher, Pastor, Teacher, these programs are more than worth what you pay for them! Accordance is also a bible software program that is also very good if you use a Mac computer. With these software programs, I have been able to save, at least two days of study time!

Now at this point, after I have established the integrity of the text, read, read and re-read the text in various versions (I use BibleWorks primarily to do this), I then consult commentaries and various other secondary sources (I use Logos and WordSearch to do this). I recommend that you first establish in your mind what the text is saying BEFORE you consult the commentaries because if you consult the commentaries first, there is always the temptation to not seriously engage the text and allow the commentary to unduly shape you opinion. Also, be careful with the commentaries. I have read one commentary that said one thing and another commentary to say the exact opposite of what the first commentary said! Use the commentaries for thoughts, ideas, or viewpoints you might have missed or not thought of. Again, DON’T consult the commentaries first, consult them LAST!

Whew! Now that all that is done, it is time to write! All throughout the process, I have been writing notes, now it is time to pull and put it all together. I usually try to write out the manuscript on Friday afternoon or by Friday evening at the latest. I do an initial draft on my computer and then leave it to soak overnight. Then early Saturday morning, I edit and write the final draft and transfer it from my computer to my iPad. I read and re-read the sermon several times (actually I preach it to myself several times!). The rest of the day is spent preparing me! As a preacher, you need time to prepare a sermon and you also need time to prepare yourself to preach the sermon!

Now being a pastor and a husband this system does not work like clock-work every week! Family matters, wife’s “honey-do” lists, people get sick, people die, hospital visits, funerals and other things occur to throw a monkey-wrench into the schedule. Not to mention that in the middle of this, I prepare lessons for Wednesday night Bible study, and various discipleship groups that I lead. But this is the way it is done on an “idea” week!

If you have any ideas, suggestions or comments, I am an open book! If you are a preacher/pastor, I would also be interested in knowing your process.

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