Sermon writing is an art. It is something you develop over time. It is something that is fluid, too. It evolves over time. How I write a sermon now is certainly not how I used to do it a few years ago. I recently recorded a podcast on how I study and prepare for sermons (which I pray you find useful), but I’m sure that in a few years when I have several hundred more sermons in my catalog I won’t be writing my sermons in the exact same way. Nevertheless, one exercise that I have recently incorporated into my own sermon study is condensing the gist of my sermon into a single sentence. I have found this to be, perhaps, one of the most vital habits that guards my sermon’s focus and effectiveness.
Devoid of concerted effort and prayerful care given to establishing a sermon’s theme, it will meander and wander and be comprised of mostly tangential ideas. A sermon without a theme is a sermon of loosely connected rabbit trails. A roaming sermon rarely finds the Redeemer. This, of course, is not an overly original thought. But it is, I would say, one of the more helpful thoughts to keep in mind while preparing to teach or preach the Scriptures. In fact, perhaps the most famous Protestant preacher of his time, John Henry Jowett, affirmed that unless you are able to express your sermon’s theme “in a short, pregnant sentence,” you aren’t ready to preach.
I have a conviction that no sermon is ready for preaching, not ready for writing out, until we can express its theme in a short, pregnant sentence as clear as a crystal. I find the getting of that sentence is the hardest, the most exacting, and the most fruitful labour in my study. To compel oneself to fashion that sentence, to dismiss every word that is vague, ragged, ambiguous, to think oneself through to a form of words which defines the theme with scrupulous exactness, — this is surely one of the most vital and essential factors in the making of a sermon: and I do not think any sermon ought to be preached or even written, until that sentence has emerged, clear and lucid as a cloudless moon.1
If you’re a preacher and this is something that is unfamiliar to you, I highly recommend including this practice in your own sermon preparation. It will guide your thoughts and ideas as you seek to expound the Scriptures and proclaim God’s good news with sincerity, integrity, and clarity.
John Henry Jowett, The Preacher: His Life and Work (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1912), 133.