Step Seven – Sermon Writing

Now that you have completed your planning for the sermon, you are ready to begin the process of composing or writing.

1. Gather supportive material for each point or move of the outline.

Haddon Robinson says, “Outlines serve as skeletons of thought, and in most sermons, as in most bodies, the skeleton will not be completely hidden.” However, just as skeletons are covered with flesh, so an outline needs to be fleshed out with supportive material.[1]

This supportive material may include an explanation of the point in the outline or of how the sermon text supports the point. It may include elaborations or illustrations of the point. It may include answers to possible objections.

There is a great deal that could be said, especially about the use of sermon illustrations. Thomas Long has a good chapter on “Images and Experiences in Sermons.”[2] I recommend Bryan Chapell’s discussions on explanation, illustration, application and their relationship, which can be found in his book and in lectures in his online course.[3]

I have also been helped by what David Buttrick’s concept of sermon “moves” (similar to points or sub-points), which he describes in his book, Homiletic. Buttrick recommends making a clear opening statement of the idea of the move, developing the idea using explanations, images, and metaphors, answering objections, and then closing the move with a restatement of the move’s idea.[4]

2. Write the sermon introduction.

Some pastors seem to think that sermon introductions are unnecessary, but I believe that is a communicational mistake. Hearers need to be prepared for the message of the sermon. A carefully planned introduction can accomplish that mental preparation.

Haddon Robinson mentions a number of characteristics of an effective sermon introduction: it “commands attention;” it “uncovers needs;” and it “introduces the body of the sermon.” [5] According to Robinson, “You must turn voluntary attention into involuntary attention. When you start, the people listen because they ought to listen, but before long, you must motivate them to listen because they can’t help but listen.”[6]

Bryan Chapell also affirms the importance of sermon introductions. The purposes of introductions, he says, are “to arouse interest in the message,” “to introduce the subject of the message,” and “to make the subject personal.”

For Chapell, what he calls the “Fallen Condition Focus” is of critical importance to a sermon introduction. “In an introduction,” he writes, “a preacher indicates why listeners should listen to the message by identifying the Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) of the sermon. The failure to do so is one of the most common and deadly omissions in evangelical preaching. Preachers are almost universally adept at using introductions to indicate what sermons will be about, but they are too frequently unskilled at explaining why hearers need to listen.”[7]

Thomas Long speaks of making a promise in the introduction. “A sermon introduction should make a promise that the hearers are likely to want kept. … We do not need to arouse the hearers’ interest at the beginning of a sermon, but we do need to maintain it by promising a sermon that bears meaning for their lives.”[8]

Many recommend not writing the introduction until the body of the sermon has been written. However, I have found it better to write the introduction first, because it sets the rest of the sermon in motion. In the introduction I try to state clearly the question the sermon is going to answer.

In addition to writing an introduction to the sermon, it can also be helpful to write out what you will say to introduce the Scripture reading. My practice has been to invite the congregation to turn to the Scripture passage that will be read and then to orient them to the passage by making brief remarks about the biblical book in which it appears. I may mention who the writer is, his purpose in writing, and where in the book the passage that will be read appears.

3. Write the body of the sermon, making sure there are good transitions from one sermon point or “move” to the next.

Some preachers can think through in detail how they will preach each sermon point or “move” without writing anything down, or by making only minimal notes. But many of us need the discipline of writing out much or all of the body of the sermon because writing forces us to clarify what we are saying and how we are going to say it.

Writing a sermon, however, is different from writing an essay. In writing a sermon, every effort should be made to use an “oral style.” As you write each paragraph, imagine yourself speaking the words to your congregation.

Ordinarily, you should write each sermon point, sub-point or “move” in the order you will preach it.

Attention should be given to making good transitions from one point or move to the next. Thomas Long has some helpful counsel regarding transitions or connectors:

“1. Connectors provide closure for the preceding segment of the sermon, thus reassuring the hearers that they are on the right track. … A connector, first of all, concludes a sermon step, often by naming whatever it is that is most important about that step.”

2. Connectors indicate how the upcoming section of the sermon is logically related to the previous section.”

3. Connectors anticipate the content of the next section of the sermon.”

4. Connectors add a bit of ‘color,’ guiding the listeners in how to understand and what attitude to take in regard to the sermon.”[9]

Bryan Chapell has a helpful discussion of transitions both in his book (chapter 9) and in the lectures that are available online. I recommend listening to the lecture, “Transitions and Dialogical Method.”[10]

4. Write the sermon conclusion.

Having a good conclusion for your sermon is just as important as having a good introduction.

According to Chapell:

“A message that starts with a gripping introduction should end with an even more powerful conclusion. Because listeners are ordinarily more likely to remember a well-planned ending than any other portion of a message, and because all a sermon’s components should have prepared for this culmination, a conclusion is the climax of a message.”[11]

Robinson also affirms the importance of the sermon conclusion: “The conclusion possesses such importance that many ministers sketch it after they have determined the sermon idea and the purpose for preaching it.”[12]

Regarding what a sermon conclusion should consist of, Long writes: “The key factor is what the sermon aims to do, what we have been calling the function statement.” The conclusion will vary, depending on whether the sermon’s function is “to teach, to evoke a feeling, to call for action, or some combination of the three.”[13]

Robinson lists some possible elements for conclusions: a summary, an illustration, a quotation, a question, a prayer, specific directions, visualization.[14]

Chapell says that conclusions often include the following: “Recapitulation (i.e., concise summary),” “Exhortation (i.e., final application),” “Elevation (i.e., climax),” and “Termination (i.e., a definite end).”[15]

Here again, Chapell has some helpful instruction regarding types of conclusions as well as cautions and hints regarding conclusions. The time required to read (or listen to) what he has to say will be well spent.[16]

  1. Robinson, Haddon W. Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014. 97.
  2. Long, Thomas G. The Witness of Preaching, Third Edition. Louisville, KY.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016. Chapter 8.
  3. Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon, Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2005. Digital. Chapters 7-8. Lecture on explanation: Lectures on illustration:;; Lectures on application:;
  4. Buttrick, David. Homiletic: Moves and Structures. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987. 23ff., 113 ff.
  5. Robinson, 120-127.
  6. Ibid. 122.
  7. Chapell, 238-241.
  8. Long, 205.
  9. Ibid., 214-216.
  10. The material on transitions begins at about 17:50.
  11. Chapell, 253.
  12. Robinson, 128.
  13. Long, 218-219.
  14. Robinson. 128-132.
  15. Chapell, 254-256.
  16. Ibid., 253-260. Lecture on Conclusions: