Skip to content
Who's in the Video
Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III, is Pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and President of SUNY College at Old Westbury. Rev. Butts was one of the founders,[…]

A legendary orator, Calvin Butts describes his process for writing a winning sermon. Not surprisingly, it all comes back to inspiration.

Question: How do you craft a sermon?

Rev. Butts: There are number of ways.  It depends on the inspiration. So, for example, this past Sunday was homecoming.  People come back after summer vacations and moving around.  And so, the sermon was focused on that theme, and I thought through the theme, you know, [recall inscription].  But then, again, sometimes I’m moved by… I saw something the other day that moved me.  I was driving down the street and I saw a little commotion and I saw an older woman who was having a little difficulty just getting herself together and getting her packages [it seems] to the car that followed her and I saw a young men come over and help her, stay with her and kind of pick her up, calm her down.  I watched it.  I actually pulled over because I thought I was thinking about the same thing and I thought about how compassionate people really are and it triggered the word, of course, love.  So, you can focus on love and try to unpack it and talk about that, because in your unpacking of love, you are liable to touch someone in a congregation who needs to hear that [said].  9/11, terrorism, the arrow that flyeth by day and the terror that come with that.  When you think about terror, what terrifies you, yes, it’s the fact that some crazed person or persons may blow up a federal building or World Trade Center.  People are terrified about it, terrified by the thought of cancer.  They’re terrified of maybe becoming homeless.  I’m going to Virginia next week and I’m going to be in a leadership institute and they want me to talk, give a lecture about what’s the ingredient of leadership and they wanted a title.  So, I told them I’m going to talk about integrity, because I think that’s a major ingredient in leadership.  So, it depends on the inspiration and what’s happening around, but the best thing that I’ve ever run into about sermon preparation is something I learned in seminary and I forget.  It might have been Harry Emerson Fosdick or I don’t know who really said it first, but they say for every minute that you… for every minute that you spend in the pulpit preaching, you should spend an hour in preparation.  Now, for me, that’s best because I really need the time.  Unfortunately, because of all the things that I do, I don’t often get that time, but experience and everyday activities feed in and help you, but the best thing for me to do is to spend a lot of time reading and a lot of time thinking about what I’ve read and my experience and then spending that hour for every minute.  That also helps to make your sermon shorter.