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Turning Sermons into Articles
By Maylan Schurch
You’ve just finished preaching, and as you’re shaking hands at the door, one of your members says, “Pastor, this morning’s message spoke to my heart. You should get it published.” Maybe I should, you think. But how would I go about it? Here are some suggestions:
Using the sermon’s ideas, start over from scratch. Unless you’re a very rare Morris Venden style of speaker, a transcript of your spoken words won’t work as an article, and vice versa. (Ever try to read a magazine article to your congregation? Brain overload!)
Before you rewrite, choose a target magazine—and analyze it. Most magazine websites have a “guidelines for writers” sections, but do your own homework first. Here’s what to do:
Get hold of several copies of your target magazine and study them. Read some articles out loud to get a feel for how article-style writing is different from speaker-style writing. Count the words in two or three of the main articles, because your own article will need to stay strictly within those limits. Count the words in an average paragraph, and keep your’s as short, or shorter. Long, dense paragraphs don’t get read thoroughly, if at all.
Next, study how each writer tries to grab attention in the very first sentence. Study the transitions between the article’s intro and main body. Are “how-to" points bolded? Italicized? How is the article structured—for example, is it divided into sections? About how many words does each illustration or example contain?
For extra credit, go down to the grocery store, buy the latest Reader’s Digest, and read it cover-to-cover. RD takes already-interesting articles of all kinds (informational, how-to, essay, etc.) and boils them down to their essence, so each issue is a best-of-the-best writing textbook.
Encapsulate your sermon’s main idea in one simple sentence. What do you want your readers to think, feel, or do once they’ve read your final sentence?
 Query your target magazine’s editor. (A query is an email in which you pitch your article idea.) Go to the magazine’s website and carefully read the instructions to potential authors. Do not deviate from those instructions. Find out who to send your query to, and address that person by name. Your query email should be short—maybe three paragraphs—and should tell why you think readers need your article. Briefly describe your qualifications (years you’ve pastored, degrees, etc.).
If you get a “send it in and we’ll take a look” response, follow the instructions in the paragraphs below. If you get a “no,” query another magazine or two. If they say no, set the idea on the shelf to let it marinate, and choose another of your sermons to write about. For now, let’s assume you’ve received a go-ahead.
Make a new outline based on the article-structure research you did on your target magazine and any relevant advice you found in the guidelines for writers. You’ll most likely have to jettison a good chunk of your original sermon. Creating a new, crisp outline will marvelously tighten up your thinking and writing.
Start writing! As you do so, be edge-of-the-seat interesting. Sermons are delivered to captive audiences, who are mostly too polite to walk out on you if you’re boring. But a magazine article isn’t “required reading” for your reader or your editor. Writing a good article is like keeping a gaggle of kids spellbound during children’s story. Illustrate your points with true stories—self-deprecating ones from your own life are best. If you want them to take action, give them down-to-earth how-to steps, and tell quick, recent stories about how these steps worked for you or someone else. No Moody or Spurgeon illustrations, please.
Read your article out loud as you go. That’s what I’ve done with this article, several times. You won’t believe all the changes I’ve made in it. But the more you write—trust me on this—the more fun revision becomes. (If you enjoy creating finished woodwork, you will understand me exactly.)
Read the “guidelines for writers” once more, and email the article, following the directions. May the Lord use your writing to touch hearts and turn them His way!
Maylan Schurch, who has written many books and articles, pastors the Bellevue, Washington church