How John Piper Prepares a Sermon
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How do you go about writing your sermon manuscripts?
My pattern is not to be followed by anybody except those who are wired exactly like I am, which is probably no one. We are all so different. When I teach preaching to the guys, I really stress, "Look how I do it and take that into account. But please don't try to imitate me, because it might not work for you."
This is my approach. If I know my text fairly well and it is familiar to me, I don't work on it until Friday. I pick out the title and text either weeks or days ahead of time because I have to get it to the worship guys by Tuesday. But I don't study it, and I don't write or work on a sermon until Friday morning. I devote all of Friday to sermon preparation.
If I need to I will stay up all night. I've never stayed up all night on Friday, but I've stayed up until 2:00 AM when I didn't know what I was going to say and needed more time to study. Or I might get an interruption because of a ministry crisis during the day that is totally unexpected, which causes me to stay up late studying on Friday. The nights are always there as buffers; however, I almost never stay up that late.
So I start on Friday by putting the text up on my computer in English-Greek or English-Hebrew. I read through the original language, getting all the help I need with my mouse. I will also have a half-sheet of paper in front of me on the desk where I write out the text and make comments as I go. As I write out the text, I'm praying, "God, show me what's here for my people. Show me what's really here, not something in my head that I force inside the text. Let me see new things that I've never seen before."
And as I write, for whatever reason, I see things. The pen, the computer, the Greek, the Hebrew, the writing it out. I circle things and make little comments in the margin. The little half sheet looks like an absolute jumble when I'm done, and I've generally got a whole slug of questions that can be answered. I've got lines drawn all over the place.
Then I step back and say, "Lord, what am I going to do with all that? I could talk on that for three hours, but I've only got 35 or 45 minutes to do this." In prayer and thought some of those circles come together, and I say, "OK, I'm going to make those two, three, or four points." And I take out another sheet of paper and try to figure out how those points should fit together. Backward? Forward? Should I start in the middle? All of this may happen by lunch time.
Then I eat lunch, and when I get back, I put up my word document and I just start writing. I take my thoughts that I scribbled out and I compose straight on to the computer, editing as I go. As I write I think and preach out loud, feeling it and praying. That takes four, five, six, seven, or even eight hours to get written. And after it is written I print it out and go to bed, or go to be with Noel or whatever.
Then Saturday after lunch, after Talitha and I go to Leanne Chin or Jimmy John's, I come home and I really go to work on internalizing it with all my little markings. What I take into the pulpit on Sunday is about 10 double-spaced pages that are so marked up they look like chicken scratch, and they function as my outline while I'm talking.
It works for me. Most people who hear I do it that way say, "No way can I start on Friday." Or, "No way can I take a manuscript into the pulpit and not have it be canned." No problem. Wear your own armor, not mine.
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