Productive Pastor 21: Sermonsmith and John Chandler


I have been waiting for this episode for months! I sat down with John Chandler, host and producer of the Sermonsmith podcast and learned from him. John interviews a different preacher on each episode and it is a wealth of knowledge about the craft of sermon preparation.

The List:
How I Prepare for Expository Bible Study or Preaching: Jeremy Sarber:
Jeremy is a listener and podcaster of his own. He runs a great blog and he shared this post with me. It is well worth your reading.

Create a Weekly Attack Plan: Art of Manliness
I came across this post in my feed reader one day. It is a great look at how one person handles an immense amount of creative responsibility as well as life in general.

Sermonsmith and John Chandler

John and I had a great conversation. I asked him these 5 questions.

1. What motivated you to start a podcast all about sermon preparation?
2. What has been the biggest common denominator in your interviews?
3. What was the most surprising thing?
4. What have you incorporated in your preparation and enjoyed the most?
5. What seems to be the usual pattern of preparation for your guests?

We had a great conversation and I hope you both enjoy it and check out Sermonsmith.


You can check out the archived Productive Pastor Insider where I shared my sermon workflow here.

Remember to sign up for the Productive Pastor Insider List. Get a great FREE productivity resource and the inside scoop every other Friday.

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My Sermon Workflow

sermon workflow

Let me share with you the sermon workflow I have developed over the last few years. It has been extremely helpful and gives me plenty of time to work on sermons throughout the week and ALWAYS be done on Thursday. I then get a day off (Friday) without stressing about my sermon and an almost free Saturday. I started developing this system with the help of Preaching Rocket.

I do most of my sermon work the week of, with some pre-work allowing me to maximize my week of time. Here is what happens in this “pre” phase.

My Sermon Workflow
Before the week of:

I work on all of my sermons utilizing Evernote. I keep one note with a broad list of titles/scriptures/series ideas and anything else. Whenever a sermon makes it into the calendar, it get’s a note all to itself. If it is part of a series, the series gets a note as well. This way I can sketch out the big theme (and all the marketing, images and anything else) looking at all the texts/titles together.

The benefit of this system is huge. These notes serve as a dumping ground. Whenever I come across anything that might be useful, I can simply drop it into the note and forget about it.

When I am 2-3 weeks out from starting a series I start working through the big idea, getting the titles and texts organized in a good flow. I look through any potential resources. I also try to figure out the “big ideas” before I jump into weekly prep. All this allows the series to flow and interact well with the other messages. I didn’t always do this and it was pretty scattered.

Week of:

During my usual weekly review I finish with some light sermon prep. I read the passage a few times and pray through what I want to tell people and ask them to do. I start filling out my sermon worksheet (this is my secret weapon and you can get it for free here) at this time. It might just be a few details or it might be even farther out.

During the morning I spend about 1.5 hours on my sermon. I do it pretty early in the morning when my creative juices are flowing. I read through the passage a few more times and ask questions of the text. I pray about what God is asking us to do at the end.

In the afternoon I take a final 30 minutes with the passage and my worksheet. At this time I want to have the first draft of my big idea done. All of the structural elements are completed (big idea, the ask and the intended response).

This is exegesis day. I generally give around 3-4 hours to this task, usually in the afternoon. I read through the passage a few more times. If any words or concepts look really important I notate it down. I write down any questions I have as I read through the passage. If I feel the need to do any translation, I do it here.

After I feel I have spent a good bit of time in the text on my own I go to commentaries and dictionaries. I try to answer any questions I have, fill in some gaps for historical data and any relationships this passage has with others. I am just dumping any information that I think might help out. I use post-it notes for much of this and build a HUGE pile of them. Sometimes I have to chart out movements or other linguistic stuff.

I don’t organize any of this, just get it all in front of me. Once I am done with this process, I look back at my sermon sheet and get rid of any information that doesn’t help me support the big idea. I pray through this process as well. I have been known to trash my sheet and refill it out at this moment.

The last thing I do is make a narrative map of the sermon. If you are familiar with mind mapping-this is pretty similar.

This is my main writing day. I usually give 6 hours to sermon work on Wednesday.

I start working through all of the information and organize it into a logical flow. I start broad and slowly start working my way down. The post-its come in handy because I can always rearrange things. I write down illustration ideas on their own post-it and put them into the workflow as well. I also start building my ideas for my images/slides. They get their own color of post-it and live above the larger timeline (I build this on the wall going horizontal).

Once I feel the shape is getting pretty good I write a draft. This draft is ROUGH. I usually immediately read it out loud to myself and fix the problem areas. If I need to get back into the text to make sure something isn’t just me saying it, I will go back and do it at this point.

After I have edited the first draft I will read it aloud to myself again this time. I notate any places change needs to happen. Usually, these are illustrations.

I draw out how my slides will support the sermon and aid the congregation in listening and processing.

Mid-morning on thursday I write my final draft. I look over any of the notes I made on the last draft on Wednesday. Sometimes I will preach it aloud again before starting on my final draft. After the final draft is complete I will read it aloud 2 more times. I will spend 30 minutes or so working on my slides. I will preach the final draft once more with the slides. I control them from my iPad (where my manuscript is also), so I can do this with just my laptop. No need to fire up the whole projection system.

I write the sermon preview at this point and put it up on my blog.

Usually this is done by 2 on Thursday afternoon so I can spend the rest of the day tying up loose ends before I take my day off.

Nothing. I don’t touch my sermon.

My wife goes to bed early. After she hits the sack on Saturday I preach through my sermon 2 more times. By this point, I am familiar with it and this is simply a run through to make sure everything still makes sense. I do a very minimal amount of editing at this point.

I wake up at 5 on Sunday morning. I read through my sermon once, just a quick flow through to make sure it is on the top of my head.

I hope sharing my workflow has been helpful for you. It helps me preach better sermons as well as be mentally prepared to preach on Sunday. I am never worn out because of a late Saturday evening sermon session!

Related Posts:
My Sermon Planning Worksheet
My Favorite Resources for Modern Preaching
Teaching a Retreat? This is How I Plan

Productive Pastor 20: 5 Keys to Effective Sermon Preparation


Welcome to sermon preparation month!

In August I am focusing both episodes on sermon preparation. This is the topic I have been hearing about the most and I am want to share some great content with you.

The List:

For a More Ordered Life, Organize like a chef. Dan Charnas
In the world of cooking, the mise-en-place is a near sacred technique of chefs and line cooks of preparation. In this NPR article and sound bite, Dan shares how we can each incorporate these ideas into our own organization.

5 Reasons to take an Extended Preaching Break: Bobby Williams
Bobby shares his journey of over-preaching and the benefit of taking extended breaks from preaching at his church.

Using Evernote in Message Preparation: Bobby Wiliiams
Besides a Moleskine notebook, evernote is the tool I have heard more preachers refer to using. I use Evernote like crazy. Bobby shares how he sets up and uses Evernote to aid in his message preparation. This is a great beginners guide to using Evernote for preaching.

5 Keys to Effective Sermon Preparation

I remember when I first started preaching. There was no rhyme or reason to how I prepared. I just started typing with an empty document and hoped for the best. Later, I took a few notes from my bible and started at least working with a basic idea in mind.

Over the last several years I have put a pretty good rhythm into place. These are 5 essentials practices that I believe will help anyone’s sermon preparation.

1. Read.
That’s it. You have to be reading. Read many different types of writing; articles, magazines, the newpaper and online. Read books related or unrelated to ministry. You will be surprised how much material you begin building up in your head.

2. Have a Holding Tank.
Find a way to capture this information. I use Evernote and a Field Notes notebook. Between the two, I always have something with me. I organize evernote with three folders to keep me moving forward and specific notebooks and folders for sermons I am researching/writing and preparing.

Here is a great read from over a 100 years ago about the benefit of keeping a preaching notebook.
The Growing of a Sermon.

3. Have a Preaching Calendar.
This is the best way to stay ahead and make sure you are preaching the whole counsel of God. It also is a huge help to the folks who assist in worship.

Productive Pastor 17: Why You Need a Production Calendar

4. Ask Others
Asking other people what they need to hear from church and letting them in on the preparation and visioning part of sermon work will not only be a help to you, but teach others about the holy act of preaching and preparation.

The Social Church Webinar

5. Find/Build and Stick to a preparation rhythm.
This is one of the hardest, but most rewarding practices. Learning to get this built into your weekly schedule will transform your sermon preparation. It will keep you on task and getting done early in the week (no one likes to write a sermon on Saturday).


My Sermon Planning Worksheet
My Favorite Resources for Modern Preaching

On the next episode we will have John Chandler, of Sermonsmith, as our guest. He has interviewed dozens of preachers about their preparation process. It will be great.

Remember to sign up for the Productive Pastor Insider List. Get a great FREE productivity resource and the inside scoop every other Friday.

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My Ultimate Recommendation List


People ask me frequently “What do you recommend for…” I decided to curate a list of my favorite recommended resources. Some of these are free, some of them cost a little bit and others are a serious investment. However, each of these are things I have purchased, used and consider essential to ministry.

I plan on adding to the list when I come across I resource I recommend in many different situations.

My Ultimate Recommendation List

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley
I wrote off Andy Stanley for years. And I will eat my own shoe now. This book is an incredible story about what it takes to lead churches unchurched people love to attend.  Part of it is the story of Northpoint and the story of what what led Andy to start Northpoint. Through this story, the reader sees the vision and values of leading a church in both excellence and evangelism.

Church Unique: Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture and Create Movement by Will Mancini
I think this is the book that changed everything for me in ministry. There was a time when I was hesitant towards any contemporary idea of purpose/vision etc. After reading this, I realized how wrong I was. It is absolutely essential any leader have a clear idea of where they are going and the ability to lead people along with it. Anything else is just shooting from the hip.

The 21 Most Powerful Minutes in a Leader’s Day: John Maxwell
Here is yet another book/resource I swore I didn’t need. This is the single best personal leadership development book I have read. It is a 5 day a week devotional all focused on building biblical leadership skills. My Dad tried to get me to read John Maxwell for ages and I refused. I am currently reading through it a 2nd time and I love it even more. This book sharpens anyone skills while growing them closer to the Lord through scripture, prayer and reflection.

Slideology by Nancy Duarte
Nancy Duarte is the master of modern visual storytelling and presenting. This book talks about to creative effective visual presentations people will want to learn from. I used this when I had to shift my preaching from just listening to a multi-media based sermon style. It was a life saver.

Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith
I believe there are only a few books that adequately describe the theological situation of American postmodernity. This book is possibly the best. Smith asks questions about what truly motivates us and how the church is forming the idea of “the good life” in the heart of every person.


Leadership andChurch Size Dynamics by Tim Keller
I recommend this .pdf to people at least once a week. I think it is essential reading for anyone in church leadership. If you are a pastor, staff member or volunteer leader, you need to read this.

Resonate by Nancy Duarte
This book used to cost money! I have actually bought it in three different formats, but now she has released it as a free online tool. The online version is an amazing learning experience, but if you want to go old school you can buy a paper copy on Amazon.

One New Thing by Darren Herbold
This .pdf features 11 church leaders answering the question “What is the one new thing that has helped your ministry excel over the last year?” The answers are golden and it is a tremendously helpful read. You can get the file for free in exchange for your email address. It’s worth it.


This is Your Life by Michael Hyatt
Michael Hyatt is the Godfather of modern podcasting. I have gone through seasons where I don’t listen to his show regularly, but then I binge on a trip and listen to 6 in a row. I think I have learned the most from Michael, more than any other podcaster, and I am thankful for his continued production.

If you preach frequently, you rarely get to interact with other preachers. This show interviews preachers from around the country about their process of preparation. Every episode is different, yet familiar.


Seedbed is a publishing house, website and center of a new Wesleyan movement. I am honored to be part of the larger seedbed family and they consistently put out great content.

99u is part of the Behance/Adobe family and is a great website on creative thought. They write about productivity, the process of creation and what innovation focused movement looks like. I read it every day.

Carey Niewhof
Carey is the pastor of Connexus church near Toronto. He writes several times a week and his posts always hit the nail on the head. He has a great view of current culture and innovative leadership.


Programs/Member Sites
These are a relatively new resource online. They are rarely free. I have found the investment is worth it. Most give a free trial for you to check things out.

The Rocket Company
The Rocket Company focuses on training church leaders for best practices. They are based in Atlanta and I love their products. I have purchased most of them and they have always been worth the money. The Rocket Company is best known for these products;
Preaching Rocket (I’ve wrote about Preaching Rocket here and here)
Giving Rocket
Volunteer Rocket
The Systems Bundle

My Favorite Podcasts (Volume 3)


Podcasts are one of the single best learning (and entertainment) tools you have access to today. They are (essentially) free to listen and enjoy. The number of podcasts produced grows every day. Every few months I like to mention my new favorites. You can find the previous posts at the bottom of this post.

My Favorite Podcasts (Volume 3)

Stuff you missed in History Class
This show is in the same genre as Stuff You Should Know (shared in volume 2). Back in the day, preachers all had ticker files. These were filled with clipping from newspapers, magazine articles and book notes. I had a mentor once tell me to always keep a swiss army knife with me so I could use the tiny scissors to cut something out if necessary.

In the digital age I think much of this isn’t necessary. What I do think necessary is to always be listening, learning and absorbing the power of stories. These two podcasts are the cream of the crop of this genre. Every time I listen I learn something knew and store away things for future use.

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Chopper Prophets

I am a fan of motorcycles. More specifically, my Harley Davidson and the culture of motorcycles. Currently, there is a great resurgence of biker culture in the younger crowd. Chopper Prophet interviews folks active in this group and gets great questions in. Not only do you learn from builders, culture creators and known folks in the community, but Mike asks some really great, deep questions. The added benefit is learning about the power and influence of sub-cultures.

Chopper Prophets

Thom Rainer (Rainer on Leadership)
Thom is the president of lifeway and does great research about church leadership/pastoring and church dynamics. His podcast is short, to the point and full of great information. No matter what denomination you are in, I think his show is a must listen.

What I appreciate the most about Thom and his podcast is his willingness to talk about some pretty serious leadership issues and what it takes for both the pastor and the church to grow through them.

Rainer on Leadership

The Lede
Copyblogger has been putting this great podcast out for the last few months. It is a super practical look into what it takes to write great content copy. Overall, The Lede is a great mini-school teaching the skills to do great marketing on the internet. You might be thinking marketing isn’t important for you, but everyone is a content marketer today. I wrote a blog post on why church leaders need to be listening and learning from content marketers. The Lede is a great way to start doing this.

The Lede

I hope this series of posts encourages you to start listening to these and other podcasts. Let me know what you are listening too!

Related Posts:
My Favorite Podcasts (vol 1)My Favorite Podcasts (vol 2)
Why Pastors Should Podcast
My Podcast Toolbox