It’s true that Saddleback has gained attention because of its growth over the decades, but I don’t want our church to grow just to add to our numbers. I’m motivated by changed lives. I’m always asking myself, “Who is the next person God will radically change? Whose marriage will be transformed next? What is the next miracle God will do?”
I don’t care what you call your preaching style, but our preaching should lead to life change. I’ve developed my sermon-preparation method around that goal. I call it the CRAFT method.
C – Collect & Compare
I start by asking the question, “What has God said about this topic?” I collect and examine what God has said about this particular topic. I gather my verses, illustrations, articles, sermons, Bible study notes, quiet time reflections—everything. I’m constantly gathering materials for future sermons. I’ve collected material for 20 years on topics before preaching on them.
Then I categorize what I’ve collected. I begin to look for similarities between verses. Then I group them together by those topics.
R – Research & Reflect
As I research, I study the Scripture I’ve uncovered. I ask two questions: What does it say? What does it mean? As you likely know, the serious study of any text involves studying the historical background of the text, looking at the text’s literary style, grammatical structure, the theological framework—I do all of that in this stage.
Then I move on to the most important part. I reflect on what God is saying to me through the Scripture I’ve studied. This is critical because it’s where you get the personal application. You meditate on the text and let it filter through your mind. I do this in my quiet time and my study time. I reflect while I’m driving, doing yard work, and on the treadmill. I simply focus my thoughts on what God says in the Scriptures.
A – Apply & Arrange
Once I’ve reflected on God’s Word, I apply it to my life and the life of my church. I urge you not to just consider personal applications but to look for corporate ones as well. How can your church apply what the Bible says together? You’re not just called to deal with individuals; you’re called to shepherd the whole body.
Then I arrange my sermon for maximum impact so there’s tension, release, and movement in the sermon. You’re preaching to persuade. You don’t need to arrange your points in the order they’re in the text. You should order your points in the way your listeners will hear the message.
F – Fashion & Flavor
I next fashion my words. As a preacher, you need to become a wordsmith and pay attention to the specific words you use. Instead of preaching “five things” about a text or a topic, you preach about the five benefits, five features, or five marks. You try to put action verbs in your points. Each word in your sermon matters. Spend time thinking about the words you use.
Next, I flavor my sermons with illustrations, quotes, humor, video clips, and so on. You want to ensure that you’re not taking your listeners through a 40-minute tunnel until they get to the end. You add flavor so you keep your listeners’ attention throughout.
T – Trim & Tie Together
At this point, it’s time to trim my sermon. I edit out all the unnecessary material. If you can say something in seven words, don’t take 20 to say it. Effective trimming is a major separator between good sermons and great ones. A great message has been trimmed to a point where there’s no fat on it. Every statement is solid, lean meat. You don’t have any filler left when you’re done trimming.
Finally, I tie my transitions to my purpose. It helps listeners to switch. I try to use category words in these transitions. For example, “the second characteristic,” “the third benefit,” “the fourth challenge,” and so on. Transitions are easy if you hand out an outline. It’ll make what’s next more obvious for your listeners.
No sermon preparation method will lead to changed lives without God’s power. Second Timothy 2:15 summarizes my approach. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (NIV).
I do the best I can to CRAFT an effective message. Then I trust God to do what only he can do while I’m in the pulpit.