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Judah Smith is the lead pastor of The City Church in Seattle and Los Angeles. He’s also the bestselling author of the book Jesus Is and his most recent release Life Is.

In a ChurchLeaders Podcast interview, Smith shared the values and heart of their church as well as his unique sermon prep. Here are a few key moments in our conversation with Judah Smith.

What are some of the early mistakes you learned from?

I think taking myself too seriously, which is probably hard to believe because I joke and laugh a lot and I do love that.

But, if I could say it like this: taking one sermon too seriously. It is a sacred thing, a holy thing, and I think you walk onto that platform every Sunday as a pastor and you think ‘Oh dear God, bail me out. God, if you don’t show up, this is gonna be a train wreck.’

I love the sacredness of it, but I also think it needs to be put into perspective. It’s 35 minutes in an individual’s life within a community that is inundated with data and information. I used to become demoralized if I felt like I didn’t do a good job or deliver it well. And I always want to be excellent and I still struggle with this, but we need to realize it actually is God’s and he’s in charge and I’m not the Holy Spirit.

And, by the way, these 35-40 minutes are actually not the answer to it all, like I don’t have all the answers. I’m not like the “answer man” for the community. These are 40 minutes where I’m going to do my best by the grace of God to encourage people that are part of our community. But community is so much more than a 40 minute talk.

Are there any tools you use for writing your sermons?

I have a really simple format. For me the way I see it–I’m kind of a tour guide. That’s how I describe my preaching style. I want to take people on a tour. I usually have one big point. I love Andy Stanley’s take on that – he’s got a great book on that subject, Communicating for a Change.

I’m like a tour guide taking people through a forest. So when I take people through the forest, unless I have markers, I might end up being that communicator who doesn’t know how to get people out of the forest. It’s possible to get so deep in the scripture and narrative that it’s hard to get back out. In other words, I don’t know how to land the plane. I don’t know how to conclude. And that’s my propensity. So I have seven markers. Every sermon followes the same seven steps.

1. Greeting


This is where I connect with my audience. It’s usually something ridiculously dumb or stupid, but meaningful to me, which is Seahawks or bring the Sonics back or the Mariners or the Huskies – sports, culture, whatever. That’s my greeting: Hello, how are you, I love you community, good to see you.

2. Reading


Next I have a reading. I always read my Bible first. Dad always said, “If your sermon is bad, at least you read the Bible first, Son. At least they got the Word.”

3. Prayer


And then I pray. I always pray publically. For me it’s important. It’s reminding the people in the space. Certainly, I’ve probably prayed before I’ve articulated and communicated, but I always pray because I want them to know this is an encounter with God, not just my ideas and concepts, but we’re really dependent upon God. So I pray then I go right into my introduction.

4. Introduction


In my preparation process, the introduction is given a lot of attention and a lot of focus. And, I usually write it out word for word. I think you’ve got one to two minutes to captivate your audience and no assumptions are allowed. That’s how I feel. There are no assumptions allowed here–you must be clear. Then go from introduction into transition.

5. Transition


A transition statement is connecting my funny introduction to the text and the Scripture and how it relates. Then from transition I go to text.

6. Scripture


I go to the text, explain what I’m going to say, then say what you’ve said and wrap it up in the conclusion. Next I go to call.

7. Call


I always end with a call to action. What is Jesus calling us to do? What’s the action we’re going to take?

So every sermon for me is kind of outlined like that, written like that, prepared like that. And so it gives me kind of a template or format that I consistently work with. That’s just how I do it. No one has to do it like that. That’s not what I’m saying at all. But that’s how I’ve approached it.


Be sure to catch the whole episode here and learn his secret for sermon prep. Hint: he only spends 2.5 hours on his sermon every week and he doesn’t have office hours!

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Talk about it...

Daniel Leavitt

commented on Sep 3, 2015

I give the call at the beginning. I don't want it to be a surprise at the end. I want everyone to have it in their head the entire time. To be thinking how it relates to the passages and the stories. I remind them in the middle and reiterate at the end.

Syl Omope

commented on Sep 3, 2015

Kool!! thanks for sharing.

Keith B

commented on Sep 3, 2015

After listening to him preach, it's obvious that he spends a HUGE amount of time on everything but the scripture. And what he does spend on the text, he twists it to make it about himself or the audience more than Jesus.

Robert Simmons

commented on Sep 3, 2015

Hi Keith B, I believe that constructive feedback is valued and cherished by good leaders. Perhaps your perspective could be shared in an encouraging direction rather than with harsh criticism? We can all improve our preaching ministry and by speaking the truth lovingly, we can help each other grow and eliminate our blind spots.

Mark Aarssen

commented on Sep 4, 2015

Pastor Judah, gives a great overview here that is helpful and honest. Thanks for sharing. I give the call at the beginning as well. It helps frame everything else with a simple direct focus.

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