Our Story

Dick Donovan

RICHARD NIELL DONOVAN publishes SermonWriter. Many years ago, he found himself over-extended and needing good resources, especially stories that fit well with the text. While the world is full of stories, it is not easy to find one that fits well with the scripture text.

Dick subscribed to several lectionary publications, but the results were disappointing. Many of the illustrations were pedestrian. Occasionally he would find an excellent story, only to ask “What does this story have to do with that text?”

Dick concluded that fitting good stories to a particular text requires a large collection of stories and quotations—and a significant commitment of time to organize those materials.

Dick had collected illustrative materials for years. He accelerated that effort in the hope that he could provide resources to busy preachers. In 1993, he and his wife, Dale Kathleen, began to publish SermonWriter. Dale managed the subscriptions and accounting, and turned out to be an inspired story-finder. Then they learned that Dick had cancer.

Dick and Dale decided to fight one battle at a time. They folded SermonWriter (and refunded subscribers’ money). Dick underwent surgery, chemo and radiation, and was the beneficiary of many prayers. While recovering, Dick served as pastor of a small church and continued to collect stories. In 1998, Dick and Dale resumed publication. Dick has now been cancer-free for two decades.

Dick originally envisioned SermonWriter as a sermon illustration service for lectionary texts. However, to insure that the illustrations truly illustrated the point of the text, he did a brief exegesis (Biblical commentary) and included it with the materials. As time passed, he received more and more positive comments about his exegesis than he expected and fewer comments about the illustrations. As a result, he has focused more attention on the exegesis while continuing to provide illustrations, a sermon, and other resources.

After working through three ABC lectionary cycles focused solely on the Gospel lessons, he decided to start work on Old Testament exegesis. He has completed almost all the Biblical commentary for the lectionary Sunday texts.

Dick is not a Biblical scholar, but he does love the scriptures. His gift seems to be the ability to explain things clearly. He studies reputable resources (commentaries, Bible encyclopedias and dictionaries, Greek and Hebrew word studies, Bible atlases) and lifts out points of particular interest to preachers. Only then does he develop SermonWriter materials.

Dick’s academic credentials include an M.Div. from Christian Theological Seminary and a Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary (focused on homiletics). He has an M.B.A. from the University of Utah and an M.A. in Guidance and Counseling from Long Island University.

Dick served as the Homiletics Officer for the U.S. Army for four years, coordinating homiletics workshops and devising strategies for improving preaching in the Army. He learned more about preaching in those four years than he ever learned in seminary.

Dick is especially indebted to Dr. William D. Thompson, retired Professor of Homiletics at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and General Editor of the Abingdon Preacher’s Library. Dr. Thompson based his workshops on his excellent book, Preaching Biblically. His simple but effective model of biblical preaching transformed Dick’s understanding of homiletics.

Dick is also especially indebted to the late Dr. Harold Albert, a Lutheran professor of homiletics. In his workshops, Dr. Albert emphasized the power of stories in sermons. He required each workshop participant to read a scripture and to tell a story that “broke open” the truth of that scripture.

Dr. Albert emphasized telling the story in one’s own words — except for what he called “The Moment” — the point in the story that is the key to its telling. He required participants to commit those few words or sentences to memory and to quote them exactly. He explained that the writer of the story had labored mightily over those few words, and we robbed the story of its power unless we got “The Moment” right.

Dick and his family live in Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island in Washington state.

We invite you to try SermonWriter and to see if it is helpful. We offer four free samples. We also invite your feedback at dick@sermonwriter.com. We want to know if SermonWriter has been helpful to you and how we can make it better.