You may have noticed that this blog contains many posts tagged as “Sermon Notes.” It would be easy to assume that these notes are meant solely for preachers, so I’ve decided to write a post sharing my motivation behind putting these notes together.
Spoiler alert: sermon notes are for everyone.
The first time I ever prepared sermon notes was when I was on staff at an Anglican church plant in California from 2010-2012. I was one of several seminarians attending the church, and our Rector and Associate Rector invited us to prepare sermon notes weekly. Many times our notes were helpful and used, and sometimes they weren’t, but through this weekly discipline, I learned a lot.
Old Idea, New Format
Preachers have always gotten help preparing their sermons through a variety of sources: biblical commentaries, books solely devoted to sermon illustrations, anything written by N. T. Wright (I’m only half joking!), journal articles, etc. There are now entire websites devoted to helping preachers with sermon prep. Most of these websites compile blog posts, media clips, quotes, or book excerpts in one place to make research easier.
Sermon preparation takes a lot of time. Some seminary professors suggest spending one hour of preparation for every minute preached. While most preachers probably don’t have that much time to spend on sermon prep, every preacher with whom I’ve spoken say they search a wide-variety of sources for material and inspiration. Some preachers may view 15 blog posts or commentaries and not use a single idea while another may find one really good source and base their entire sermon on it. With the busyness of our lives, especially the lives of pastors, sermon prep is made easier through these online resources.
Staying Sharp While Out of Season
Many athletes maintain their physical strength and skillset by participating in off-season workouts and personal training so they can be prepared to hit the ground running when they report to training camp with the rest of their team. I currently find myself “out of season” as I am not preaching regularly. I have found that an added personal benefit of preparing sermon notes is that it keeps me “in the game” of preparation by reading and studying Scripture and commentaries regularly. Preparing sermon notes has become a form of personal discipleship and growth for me, which brings me to my final points.
Sermons Are Not a Spectator Sport: Sermon Notes for Clergy and Laity Alike
Liturgy is not something to be observed; it is participatory and active. I believe that preaching also serves a liturgical function, and therefore is a “work of the people” (this is the meaning of the Greek word leitourgia) which requires active participation. Sermons should not be a spectator event, even though that is the assumed norm.
It would be easy to suggest that the only person who has to “work” on a sermon during the week is the preacher. I’d like to paint a different picture though. What would it look like if lay people were familiarizing themselves with and studying the lessons for Sunday? What would it look like if clergy and laity were equally prepared for a sermon? I have a feeling it might increase the depth and reach of the sermon’s message.
Baptized believers are set apart for ministry in God’s Kingdom. We’re all called to be theologians. All of God’s people should prepare their hearts and minds for the sermon each Sunday by reading through the lessons ahead of time. Think of this as a form of liturgical homework. Better yet, think of this as catechesis.
If you put time and effort into learning from God’s Word, when it is explicated on Sunday you will grasp the material in a new way and be led toward fruitful application. Just like a violinist doesn’t show up for her concert without practicing and someone taking the Bar Exam has spent time studying, so too should clergy and laypeople immerse themselves in sermon preparation.
May we heed Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer’s words from his famously beautiful Collect:
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I therefore urge all of you to read through the lectionary passages before you go to church every Sunday. Take time during the Daily Office or your private devotions to read through the passages that will be preached.
Further, I invite you to read through my notes on a weekly basis as your prepare your hearts and minds to hear from the Lord on Sunday. Your pastor/priest/preacher may go in a totally different direction than where I go in my notes and that’s good!
The goal isn’t to know what your preacher is going to say on Sunday, but rather to be aware of the texts and to be familiar with them so your preacher can take you deeper into the mystery of faith. Allow yourself to be formed by the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit and by the Body and Blood of our Lord.