Jump Starting Sermons


Here are 20 fresh ideas for what to do when your well of creativity seems to run dry.

COMMUNICATION IS WHAT WE preachers are all about. Yet true communication seems to occur rarely.

I’m amazed at how often people in my church hear things in my messages that I never said-and usually never even thought of. Even so, I keep trying to communicate.

Sometimes people get really mad about what I say. One service, I made a negative comment about a popular TV preacher’s homily on depression. Not a good move.

And there was the time I tried explaining to my wife why I want to shout at the television when TV ministers don’t realize their messages have gone long enough.

She interrupted me and said: I know what you mean. Several people were exhausted from the journey near the abyss of error you took us on last Sunday.” Despite my detractors, I keep shooting for the perfect sermon.

The part I hate most about preparing my sermons is getting started. I’m more easily motivated when I’m mad at someone and can start off by aiming the message at them.

My ethics, which eventually get the better of me, make such preparation a catharsis but otherwise a waste of time. I then try pouring over verses I’ve studied. They usually sit there staring back at me.

To remedy my periodic paralysis, I asked other pastors for the sermon start-up ideas they use when they’re stalled. I’ve compiled their suggestions into a list. If you have any ideas to add after you read my list, fax them to me, and I’ll write a book.

1. List the 10 most important experiences you’ve had. Give a title to each one and prepare appropriate messages.

2. Instead of preparing single sermons, think of preaching a series that extends at least two weeks. Then you can build several messages together and avoid the pressure of coming up with something totally new every week.

3. Skip preaching every fifth or sixth Sunday. Your soundness of mind will return.

4. List your 10 most fearful moments. Preach on each one.

5. Build sermons around a story. Choose a compelling story and discuss it with a Scripture text from your disciplined study. This is backward, I realize, but often it gets me away from Saturday night computer games.

6. Browse the book titles in the how-to section of your local book-store. In your sermon, either agree or disagree with what you find.

7. Think of at least five sermon categories you could preach from. Here are some examples of the topics I preach on: outreach (usually apologetics); discipline (such as repentance or baptism); prophetic (addressing specific current events in the church); “vision-casting” (why the church exists and what it is going to do); and healing (touching people where they hurt).

8. Don’t be afraid to use the same stories several times over two or three years. I don’t know why, but people love to hear a story they know.

9. Subscribe to several tape ministries (mine is especially recommended). Keep a current stack of six to 10 tapes you can pull out
any time. Don’t mimic the messages; just allow them to trigger refreshing thoughts to help you start.

10. Purchase a stack of magazines you wouldn’t normally read. I bought Redbook the other day. I blushed at the checkout counter, but it had a great article on women’s greatest fears in relationships with men.

11. Read novels. Sometimes you just have to get away from theology texts. They may make you a great thinker, but your preaching will become dry and ethereal unless you read other things too.

12. Read biographies. You’ll find some great lessons and stories to spice up your presentations.

13. Read newspapers. They always have plenty of sermon material, and God may use one of the cartoons to give you a fresh revelation on some important topic.

14. Occasionally mail a survey to your church members asking questions such as: What areas of your life are particularly painful
right now? What are the top three problems you’re facing with your spouse or children?

15. Use contrast in your sermons. People listen for both congruity and contrast, and contrast greatly enhances their interest level.
Instead of only discussing someone who had great faith, contrast them with someone who had little faith.

16. Think of someone in your family or extended family who is hurting and develop a message that would help them.

17. Pick out someone in your church who is doing well and tell them the benefits that they will receive (Do all of this in your imagination).

18. List the 10 most stupid things you’ve ever done and focus your message on how you could avoid the same mistakes next time.

19. Choose famous people to read about and preach as if to them. I recently read all of John Lennon’s lyrics, looking for how I could have helped him. I came up with a series inspired by his song “Imagine” and opened with the message: “Why We Can’t Believe in Nothing.”

20. It’s valuable to periodically go to your concordance or Bible software and ask questions such as: What were Paul’s 10 favorite terms? What arc the most common words in John’s letters? What are the top five blunders in the Bible?

That ought to be enough from my list for now.

This Sunday, I am preaching a message on Naaman the leper. It’s about healing. But I’m sure someone will tell me it’s the best message they’ve ever heard on why we should be immersed rather than sprinkled.