What would worship be like if your congregation had prepared for the sermon? How would the spiritual growth of your congregation mature if you could encourage devotional time with a sermon that addressed the specific needs of the congregation while being relevant to a weekly devotional schedule? On top of that, how would you like to have about 7 sermon ideas to select from each week? Does this sound too good to be true? Think you don’t have the time? Well think again.

The Church’s Devotions

Take twenty to thirty minutes a day for your own devotions. There are many good “through the bible in year” reading schedules. The first step to accomplishing this is by printing out for your congregation either one of these schedules, or by printing out your own study and devotional schedule. If you are like me, sometimes you have difficulty in thinking about what a devotional time looks like. I have tried many different ways, and nothing seems to fit me very well. Sometimes we make devotional time too difficult, other times we neglect devotional time all together.

Any devotional model will work, but if you have had trouble with this in the past, try something different. There is a great method described and practiced by Wayne Cordiero and the New Hope Christian Fellowship Oahu. When I heard him speak on this subject, it made what was my struggle a joy. If you have ever struggled with a devotional or journaling time, this just might be what works for you too.

SOAP devotional model

SOAP is simply a model that uses the following approach:

Scripture

Observation

Application

Prayer

Scripture) As you read, what verse(s) as you read jumps out to you, what verses touch your heart? As you begin by contacting God’s word, let it first begin to contact your heart. Still, this is for you, not your congregation. The sermon isn’t here, nor should it be.

Observations) restate what the passage says. Make notes from your experience. As you look and think about it, what does it say? What is God saying to you as a man, a pastor, a husband or father? When you hear it, feel it, or experience it, write it down.

Application) How do you put this into practice? It may be a list from the scripture. The simple question to ask is what do I need to do to get this work in my life? Is there instruction or correction that is piercing your heart? Is there encouragement or edification that God has in store just for you? As it comes, again just simply jot it down.

Prayer) Write down a short prayer. It can be specific, or general – but understand that you are now taking this thought internally as well as heavenly.

As you are reading through your daily schedule, you can make notes. Simple and concise work best. Buy a notebook, use your PDA, or even note cards, but you have to engage here with God’s word. When your done making your notes – give it a title. Something you can see quickly that is quick summary of the topic.

Here’s is a sample of what mine looks like from Galatians 6:

Galatians 6:7-10 Planting a life for God

S) "Don't be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others — ignoring God! — 8harvests a crop of weeds. All he'll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God's Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life. 9So let's not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don't give up, or quit. 10Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith." (The Message)

O) What A person sows is what they reap. Selfishness is the sign of a wasted life, and in the end is worthless. Real life is based on generosity. Generosity and God's growth in a person is the real vital sign that shows the real fruits of the Spirit.

A) Plant Generously

Don't Give up

Cultivate Diligently

Start with your closest Community.

P) God, Help me to tend my life in a way that is worthy of a good harvest.

This should take about 20 to thirty minutes a day. Now when you make time to do this, you will have 7 sermons already started.

Keep your appointment with God. Whatever devotional model or journaling discipline you practice, it is most important to keep you word with THE WORD.

Using a worship ministry team to pick one sermon

As you do your devotional time, enlist 3 to 6 others who can read the same thing you do daily for your devotional time. These 3 to 6 people need to understand what they are joining. This is a small group who is in charge of selecting a sermon with you. You will need this group to meet weekly for a minimum of 45 minutes. This group needs to meet at a convenient time. For us it is on Sunday mornings an hour before Sunday School. Also have them use the same devotional model that you do if it is at all possible.

As you select your team, help them by showing them the big picture. The object and purpose of this group needs to be simple: Our purpose is this: “How do we better communicate God’s Word to our community.“

When you start this group your first meeting has to be for a worship service three to six weeks ahead. How many weeks exactly? Well it depends on how many people are a part of the worship service. You will need more time if you have a music minister, drama team, worship group. The extra weeks will give them the quality time to make that worship service the best it can be. You will also need to add weeks to this schedule if you need extra time to memorize, or have an extremely heavy workload as it is. What happens here is actually your sermon preparation is streamlined because you have a narrower focus on what you need to study and prepare for. On top of that, this presentation to the worship team will give you lots of ideas, and you can delegate come of the workload to them.

When you gather with this worship team that selects the sermon – have your work done as much as possible before hand. I have found that a visual presentation works best. So we get out the marker board and I make some notes before we start.

(note: I like the message version here as it uses pictures that relate to our culture already, any version will work)

Our board will look something like this.

I write down simply what is in bold, the scripture reference and the title.

(The following scriptures are from the message)

03/20/05 Palm Sunday

Galatians 1:2 The Testimony of a changed life!

That man who once tried to persecute us is now preaching the very message he tried to destroy.

Galatians 2:15-16 Grace and the same old barn

Convinced that no human can please God by self improvement, we believe in Jesus as the Messiah So that we might be set Right Before God.

Galatians 3:2 God is pleased with response not morality

Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's Message to you?

Galatians 4:5-6 Freedom and adoption

5 Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. 6You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, "Papa! Father!"

Galatians 5:4 Grace or works? What does God really want for you?

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace.

Galatians 6:7-10 Planting a life for God

7Don't be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!— 8harvests a crop of weeds. All he'll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God's Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

1) When our meeting time starts we open with prayer, and I go through one by one a short synopsis of what my devotional time was with each one of these subjects. As you go through this first look, give your ideas as to what you see working well that week. Keep in mind any particular needs, or themes you want to build in your preaching plan.

2) The next thing we do is play elimination. What don’t we need? What happens usually happens here is the statement – they are all so good. That’s miracle of god’s word, but we are going to have to pick one. This week in my devotional time, Galatians 4 was very difficult and didn’t yield a lot to me, so I asked that we eliminate it. If most everyone overrides your choice, then keep it up there. (I have only gone against the popular vote here once because of personal spiritual closeness to a passage that I needed to deal with.)

3) When you get down to half the list, then change focus. “Which one of these three do we really need?” What happened in this case is Palm Sunday, AND it the first day of spring. Galatians 6 was chosen. So I erased the board, and wrote down:

Galatians 6, Planting a life for God.

4) The illustrative question: What movie, what picture, what event shows us what’s going on here? After a couple minutes of brainstorming, the question came out, what if we did this? As ideas are thrown about wildly, there is usually one or two ideas that are really good and do it well. Here’s what was proposed. What if we had cups, potting soil and seeds, right outside the church? People on their way to the parking lot can plant a seed and watch it grow. This is what you now delegate: who gets the seeds, the cups the soil, they have three weeks to get it done. From this session you now have your metaphor to use as your central illustrative and connection point.

What ever comes about from this question will be the central picture to lock into the hearts and minds of people the spiritual truth of that morning.

5) Evaluate last weeks sermon – Did this do what we wanted? Where was it strong? Where was it weak? You can be a brutal or as kind as you want. After a while you’ll get a good picture of your personal strengths and weakness in the preaching event.

Now that you have your sermon text and metaphor, you can give this information to those who will be doing the song service, the drama, communion meditation, anyone else who has a part of that weeks worship or celebration time. The preaching event is now streamlined and you should have a couple weeks to prepare this special event.

Five step process to presentation

Simplified the process looks like this:

Devotion – To touch their hearts, the Word must touch yours.

Illustration - Metaphor - a picture is worth a thousand words

Memorization - The 14 days before preaching - repetition, reflection

Presentation - the preaching event

Evaluation - What worked, what didn't, what was learned

After some time and practice using this method, you can eventually move to preaching completely without notes. You can do this by taking about an extra fifteen minutes a day to read your sermon scriptures that are ‘in the chute’ If you use note cards, put them on a bulletin board.

If you are using a notebook, mark that page and re-read it every day. This repetition will help you keep in mind what illustrations, and other scriptures to add to your sermon. By adding a couple weeks to work ahead – you can really get that scripture deep down inside. You can still make your notes, or manuscript. Because you have spent a longer time with the text, it will begin to flow from within during the preaching event.

What is the result of doing sermons in this manner? First of all it’s a shared event. The congregation is reading the scripture the week it is presented. It’s a shared event with a few that give insight and observation that is beyond our own existence. It becomes a team event, with the minister reflecting a relevant word for right now. Secondly, it’s a deeply moving event. The preaching event has a better chance to touch others because of the closeness you have developed with it over a set span of time. Finally, It gives the preaching event a good chance of connection by being visual, experiential, culturally relevant and doctrinally sound. This is the most fun I have ever had preaching, and this can make a difference for you.