Thursday, May 24, 2007

Help for writing sermons

Our PNWD supply preaching directory has just come out, which gives me an opportunity to showcase something helpful that was offered on the ministers' chatline by my colleague and friend Roger Kuhrt, in Tacoma.

Roger has offered many a "writing a sermon" class in his day and gave me permission to post his helpful outline of tips on my blog. Thanks, Roger, and I'll see you later today at our ministers' cluster meeting in Port Townsend.

Writing A Sermon
by Rev. Roger O. Kuhrt

Create an outline and follow it. As with anything creative, allow yourself not to be bogged down and rigid about your outline, but it's a good idea to have one. Try this:

· •Choose Topic.

· •Learn about who audience will be.

· • Write mission statement or goal for the sermon.

· •Gather notes and research material.

· •Decide if your speech will be fully written out or will simply be an outline of bullet points on note cards.

Whether or not your speech will be full text or bullet points, you'll need to:

· •Create an outline form: "Introduction, Body of Sermon, Ending."

· •Under each of those headings, put notes from your research, stories, quotes, etc., that are applicable to each heading.

· • "Flesh out" the introduction and ending a bit (you won't literally write every word you're going to say, just the 'talking points').

· •Fill in the "Body of Sermon" section of the outline. Make as many subheadings as you think are appropriate.

· •Look back over the entire outline and see if the introduction "flows" to the ending.

· •Look back over the entire outline and make sure it fits with your mission statement and that it is appropriate to the audience. (Did you veer away from your mission statement? Is it over the audience's head? Is it too basic?)

· •Make adjustments as needed.

If you'll be delivering a complete written text:

· •Go back to each outline section and fill each one in. Don't worry about transitions from one segment to the other yet. You'll write those in the next step.

· •Write transitions from one segment to the next, and make sure they flow together.

Writing words down that make sense

In order to write down words that make sense, you're going to have to write a bunch of words that don't make sense. Sounds ridiculous? My point is that you just START WRITING. At first, you'll write a bunch of sentences that don't sound right to you. They may be off track, or grammatically wrong. But keep going back to your writing, and keep rewriting until it sounds understandable

A test to see if it makes sense
· One way to find out if it's understandable is to put yourself in the place of the audience. When you read it, would it make sense if you had no knowledge about this subject? Or, even you did have knowledge about the subject, is it understandable to people other than the writer?

· Very often, writers assume that the audience can follow their 'train of thought.' I do it too. But an attempt to put yourself in the audience's shoes will help keep this problem to a minimum.

· Consider your transitions from one point to the next: Do they make sense?

· When you start each section, go from the general to the specific. Especially use this in the introduction. As you write, make the sermon sound like you were talking. Don't try to write fancy language. Don't use words you'd never use. Of course, you have to think about your audience, so spruce up your vocabulary a little by avoiding words that might be offensive, etc. But "listen" to your writing as you write it, and ask yourself "does it sound like me?"


Ms. Theologian said...

This is so helpful! I googled the topic a while back and found absolutely nothing. So thank you (both) for posting it. i think the point about trying to understand it from an audience point of view (in terms of transtions) is especially good.

ms. kitty said...

I'm glad it was helpful, Ms. T. The audience's point of view/reception is really important, all right. And delivery is really critical, because you can deliver a message more effectively if you speak slowly, pause appropriately, and know the material so well that you don't have to read it nor do you have to ramble.

Ms. Theologian said...

Now what do you do when you guest preach for a congregation that you don't know? Do you go in sort of blindly? Pump the minister you're standing in for for details about the congregation? Try and hit some sort of more global message?

ms. kitty said...

What I do is ask the minister for an idea; ask what s/he thinks the cognregation needs to hear. That's one way. Or I hit some sort of general human message---hospitality, beloved community, UU history, spirituality in the workplace.