1. You will see how to get great ideas and illustrations everywhere.
  2. You will be able to know if what you are studying will help you minister to your people.
  3. You will learn to use a system that will allow you to easily keep track of the great ideas you get.
  4. You will make a sermon or lesson plan.
  5. You will be able to name the three purposes of any sermon or lesson.


The people lined the streets to shout praises to Jesus as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Waving palm branches and crying “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” they exalted Him. After a time of teaching by Jesus, God spoke from heaven.

The remarkable detail in this story isn’t the fact that God spoke. The amazing point is that most people didn’t recognize Him when He did speak. Some thought it was thunder; a few others thought it was an angel. They didn’t recognize God’s voice because it came from the sky and the only thing they had heard from the sky before was thunder. They, like us, are accustomed to hearing from God in only a few places. The problem is that we’re not hearing Him when He does speak. If you are waiting for God to speak to you in some inner voice, or only through a Scripture that seems to jump from the page of your Bible, you will not hear God as often as He speaks.

On one occasion, God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house where He said He would announce His words to him. (Read Jeremiah 18:1- 6) How? By letting Jeremiah observe a life experience that directly related to a spiritual principle. Some of the best ideas and illustrations for messages don’t come from books, but from life as you watch it and live it. When you can find truth in life as we live it today, your people will be able to apply it to their own lives. Jesus used life as He lived it to explain truth.

For example, a few years ago I was preparing a sermon on leadership in the home. I wanted to show husbands that wives find it nearly impossible to follow a man who cannot make a decision. Some months before I preached this message, I was ministering in another city. While I was there, the host pastor took me to dinner at a hotel. After our meal, we walked through the lobby on our way outside on a platform in one corner of this very large room stood a newsstand. Since it was a major hotel, the operator of the newsstand had a dozen different newspapers from around the U.S. for sale. We stood for a few moments on the edge of the platform watching the movement of the crowd through the lobby. Just before we left, a couple walked past us toward the restaurant. As they got near the newsstand, the man stopped and said to the woman, “Wait a minute, I want to get a paper.”

She stood there while he walked over to the newsstand and picked up a newspaper. He looked it over and put it down, picking up another. He looked it over for a few seconds, then put it down and picked up yet another edition. He did the same thing several times. Picking up, looking, replacing, the woman became more exasperated each time he did it. Finally she blurted out, “For goodness’ sakes, Harold, buy something!” She became frustrated when her husband could not make a decision.

There was an excellent illustration for a sermon I would preach sometime in the future. Some may have seen it and thought it was only something interesting to watch. It was God speaking in life. We may not hear Him because we aren’t accustomed to hearing His voice there. He’s speaking but we aren’t listening.

Here’s an exercise you may find useful. Leave your house and go out for a walk. Get away from your normal surroundings. While you’re out walking, find one object or observe one event in which you can find some spiritual truth or principle. Then develop a message from what you saw, or use what you saw as an illustration in it. When a friend of mine did this, he found a rusty nail. As he thought about it, he understood how something that was shiny and new could become rusty and worn. He then developed a message on how sin corrupts people.

Learn from other good communicators. Listen and read what other good speakers say. Nothing is original, so don’t feel guilty about borrowing their ideas. If and when you do borrow, the ethical thing to do is to tell your congregation who said it. If a man is a good communicator, study his method, listen to the words he uses, and remember his choice of illustrations. Maybe there’s a more forceful way to say what you need to say. Too many sermons and lessons are full of stammering and stuttering. If a man is a good communicator, learn from him.


It went like this: Church on Sunday, counseling and classes three nights a week, I taught in our Christian school, and worked on our new building on Saturday, church on Sunday, counseling and more ministering …

I hope your schedule is less busy than mine was. Notice I said “was”. After several years of it, I made some radical changes. I was so busy with church activities I had no time to relax. I couldn’t hear God speak anywhere else, because I could never go anywhere else except at a run. The pressure of my schedule kept me from enjoying the other dimensions of my life. My wife, children, myself as an individual, my friends were blurred together. I was so busy I couldn’t enjoy them.

The first revelation we have of God is in the book of Genesis. There He reveals His creative nature. Good sermons and powerful lessons require creativity. Creativity means to make something new or to rearrange old things in a new way. Creativity begins to work in a relaxed environment. When you are not pressured, you can come up with some very creative ideas. How many times did Jesus teach His disciples and then take them off into the hills for a while? On more than one occasion, Jesus left a busy meeting and retreated to the hills. He needed to hear from His Father. So do we. Learn to relax.

When you begin to plan ahead, when you listen everywhere, when you learn to relax, it won’t be long before you’ll begin to gather a lot of ideas, thoughts, illustrations and principles. How will you keep track of them all? What will you do with them until you can put them into a sermon or lesson? You may be able to remember a few of them for a few days, but what will you do when you get so many, you can no longer remember them? How will you save them when you come across them so that you can find them later?

Here’s a simple method to record and store all this material.


Since a good message takes several weeks or months to develop, you will need some way of keeping all those messages you are working on in some kind of order. I use a sermon/ lesson plan, but I didn’t buy it anywhere. It’s a form I developed myself. I like to preach series, taking several weeks on a topic before moving on to another. So I included a place to write in the series name. For instance, one summer I preached two months on “The Weapons of our Warfare.” On this form, the series name “Weapons of our Warfare” would go there.

Each sermon was given a title that would help people remember what it was about. So I included a place for the title on my form. The most important part of sermon and lesson preparation is to state its purpose. As you begin preparing a sermon or lesson, define the reason behind it. Why are you going to preach it? What do you want to happen as the result of your having taught it? What do you want it to accomplish for those who hear it?

There are three broad purposes for a sermon or lesson:

  1. to inform,
  2. to persuade,
  3. to motivate.

Every message will fall somewhere in these three categories. Some sermons or lessons may include more than one, but each will include at least one. Your statement of purpose should read something like this: “I want to motivate each person in my congregation to witness to at least two people this next week.”

Preaching a sermon or teaching a lesson without a stated purpose is like firing a gun without a target. It makes a lot of noise and gets attention, but it captures no game. The sermons of the Bible show purpose. So do its books and letters. Read John 20:30-31, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and 1 Thessalonians 4:1.

If the most important part of sermon and lesson preparation is a stated purpose, the most important parts of preaching and teaching are the introduction and conclusion. Use an introduction that gets the people’s attention, sets the mood for the message, and makes them want to hear more. Create a conclusion that sums up your purpose, provides an action step, and brings your thoughts to a crisp end. List several ways to introduce and conclude your message on the sermon plan.

On the rest of the page, write down any major thoughts you MIGHT include in your sermon or lesson. Don’t worry about any particular order now, just write down anything that comes up. You’ll choose the ones you’ll use in your message later. Keep your stated purpose in mind. The sermon/lesson plan form is not your completed message. It is only a device to help you assemble all the parts into the finished product.


Make a sermon plan right now. Take a piece of paper and make a sermon plan like the one in the illustration. Then, take the ideas you gathered earlier and begin to plan a sermon or lesson. Be sure to:

  1. Define the purpose of the message. I want to preach this message because…
  2. List ideas, Scriptures and illustrations that apply to the message.
  3. Plan a conclusion. How do you want the sermon to end? The conclusion should be an action step. Get your listeners to do something. Don’t let them just listen to you. Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and do it.