How a message gets written at Anthem

Teaching the Scriptures is one of the most important responsibilities that a pastor/elder has. It is the Gospel that has been entrusted to us to pass on to faithful men who will teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). We are responsible for using the Scriptures to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16) and we are commanded to preach the Scriptures faithfully, in season and out. 

So, with those Scriptures guiding us, we have built a process of preparing messages at Anthem that is designed to maximize three different things. 1) We want sound Biblical theology and exegesis in each message we preach. 2) We want accountability as teachers, being subject to one another to avoid pride and an overinflated sense of indispensability. 3) We want to reproduce the heart and mind of a teacher, passing on the skills and culture of a preacher into as many people as we can. 

This isn’t a perfect process, but it’s what we do and until now, it has served us well!

Teaching Team Retreat

The first point of contact on our messages takes place at the teaching team retreat. Generally speaking, the teaching team is our lead pastors (currently me, Bert Alcorn and Kevin Bailey), our director of campus development (Ryan Hinkle), any apprentice teachers that we are working with and any leadership residents that are on board with Anthem at the time of a retreat.

We go into the retreats with an idea of what book we are going to be studying and as the coordinator, I generally request that the guys do some reading of commentaries in preparation for the retreat. We also do some research into other churches who we look up to as preachers to see what they have done with that particular book. Ideally, we come into the retreat with 2-3 different breakdowns of a book (how many weeks, what passages in each week, what themes and emphases, etc.). 

I also ask the guys to read through the book that we are going to be prepping a few times before we get to the retreat.

We start the retreat with a time of solo prayer. Each guy takes a walk. Generally we are coming into a retreat off of a pretty full life and schedule and I don’t want us to rush into message prep. It’s a great time for confession, repentance, gospel application, worship, reconnection, etc. Then we come back together and take an hour or so to pray for the church.

After prayer we take some time together to read through the entirety of the book that we are going to be working on, out loud. We read through it listening for any repeating words, themes or ideas that we will need to hone in on later.

Once we’ve gone through the text, we work on the breakdown. How many weeks will it take to teach through the book. We arrive at that number by breaking down the chapters/sections into teaching blocks. 

Once we have a framework for the teaching series, we go back through each week and we prep each week with:

  • The Big Idea
  • Key Scriptures
  • Rough Outline
  • Gospel Conclusion

We also have a section for any notes that we want to pay attention to later on when we get into that week. We will note any particular commentaries that stood out to us that need to be reengaged during the prep day. 

By the end of the teaching retreat, we hope to have the whole book (or a predetermined number of weeks if it’s a longer book) prepped. This allows the primary teacher to have a pre-collaborated foundation of a message to draw on when he goes into message prep. 

Message Prep Day

The week of the message, the primary teacher will take a day (currently Monday) to prep the message. For me, this involves getting away to a coffee shop with my computer and headphones and expanding the notes from the teaching team retreat. I use Logos Bible Software and for the first few hours of the day I do a pretty extensive study of the text. 

I will generally read through the passage a few times and get a sense of where it is going. For each series, I’ve found that I will usually have a favorite commentary that gets my mind going in the kind of direction that I’m hoping for. The NT Wright “For Everyone” series has been great for a big picture direction shaping, the Zondervan Exegetical Series has been great for a more detailed examination of the text. 

At around 10AM I’ve got a sense of the text, it’s context and implications. That’s when I start writing. I’ll open up Pages on my computer and start writing the message. I’m kind of a conversational writer, so I don’t really worry too much about formatting, I just write it as though I was teaching the message to my keyboard. I type pretty fast, so that helps when writing in that way. 

I honestly don’t wordsmith too much, I’m not too worried about how sentences are structured or phrases are ordered, my primary hope is that it’s readable and teachable. I know that other people are going to be reading my notes and basing their teaching of the same passage off of my study, so I want it to be clear. I also want to do my best to help the concepts come across with heart and passion. 

I usually wrap up the writing around 1:00 and email it off to our other teachers and worship leaders so they can take a look and start getting their heads around it. 

The Q

The last part of our process is the Q. The Q is where we reengage a collaborative process. The Sunday teaching is a pretty important space for discipleship, theological development and vision unity of the church, so we don’t take it lightly. Most of the messages that happen on a Sunday morning at Anthem have already been taught at the Q. 

With the Q we gather a small group of teachers and aspiring teachers, usually in a casual location (it has been Kevin’s garage lately). Whoever has done the primary preparation for the message will be the person teaching at the Q. This isn’t designed to be practice (although it is), one of the goals of the Q is to be a true preaching space that just happens to get feedback.

So, when I’m Qing, I give it to the guys as though this is the only preaching that they are going to hear this week (and sometimes that’s true!). I will preach through the message, record it on my iPhone while preaching, and keep a timer so I know how long I go. 

After preaching the message, whoever was there takes time to give feedback. We use a Green/Yellow/Red format.

Start with the greens: What stood out? What did you learn? What was clear? What was helpful? What was engaging?

Then yellows: What didn’t make sense? What sound shaky? What was unclear? What seemed off? 

Then reds: Was there any heresy or inappropriate stuff that needs to not be said.

Like I said… accountability. 

I take notes on the greens/yellows/reds and I use them to make any changes to the message throughout the weekend. 

By the time the message gets to the body on a Sunday morning, it has had multiple touches from multiple people who love Jesus, are filled by the Holy Spirit, study the scriptures and have a heart for Anthem Church. This is an important process to me. I honestly believe that Anthem gets better teaching because we do the Q. It’s a chance for me and the guys to work out the things that come into our minds that may not be totally right for the body. It’s also a chance for us to highlight and spotlight the things that the body very much needs.

I’ve been doing the Q for 6 years and I’ve been the primary teacher at it probably 85% of the time. I’m not sure what I would do without it, it’s protection for me, protection for Anthem and it also develops all of our teachers into better communicators because they get to hear and critique it before they ever teach it themselves.

As a secondary benefit, we use the Q as our primary space to develop apprentice teachers. We give them opportunities to preach messages (usually about 15-20 minutes) that aren’t intended for a Sunday. It’s a space to hear yourself teach and get feedback from experienced teachers! This is generally the first place that we invite people who might have a teaching gift or think that they’d like to preach in the church at some point. 

After the Q I generally take time to pray through the message and for the church. I don’t do a ton of note changes after the Q unless there were major changes that needed to be made. By the time I get to Sunday, I don’t often use my notes because the messages are pretty embedded at that point. My hope is that the message becomes more than information transfer, but that there is a preaching from the heart to the heart aspect to it. 

I hope this helps give a picture of what we do and why we do it! Feel free to ask any questions!