The Sermon Prep Process
If you are already pastoring, you have no doubt worked out your own system for developing sermons. Maybe you are like me, and you are always on the lookout for helpful tips, time-saving ideas, and best practices that can help you perfect your craft.
1. Picking a Passage:
Not to be Captain Obvious here, but the first step is obviously picking a passage. You may come from a tradition that uses the lectionary, so your passage has been picked already. As an expository preacher, I love to take my congregation through books of the Bible. As I write this post, we are wrapping up the Gospel of Mark and headed into one of the epistles - 1 Corinthians. As I plan series, I like to alternate types of literature and go back and forth between Old and New Testament. You can preach thematic series while still using an expositional approach to the text. If you are preparing a stand-alone message for a special event or something similar (and even if not!), give yourself to much prayer, and every time, you will find that God leads you right to the very passage you are to bring.
2. Getting Started:
Earlier in my ministry, I would spread out probably a dozen different books any time I was preparing a message. There are excellent software programs out there also with thousands of books a click away, including the early church fathers and linguistic tools. Currently, I keep it simple early in my process - starting with the English Bible and my Greek New Testament. I save the commentaries for later. G. Campbell Morgan is the one who suggested not preaching a passage you haven't read at least 50 times. Dr. Clyde Box is celebrated for having committed to memory the passage he preaches. If you study thoroughly enough, you will find that you will have the passage virtually committed to memory also. At this point, I am deciding where the passage begins and ends. I learned at the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching in Memphis, TN, the helpfulness of paragraph preaching. Dr. Danny Akin was a guest speaker in that institute, and he mentioned using the paragraph divisions in your translation or Greek New Testament as a guide. Most often, this will suffice. But there will be other times that you will feel led to shorten or lengthen the passage. Pay attention to discourse markers, such as "After these things...."
Another tip I picked up at the Olford Center was this from William Graham Scroggie (d. 1958) through Dr. Stephen Olford. You look for the "dominating theme;" Haddon Robinson refers to this as the Big Idea. Then you identify the "integrating thoughts." This is the heart of your exegesis. Then finally, you find the "motivating thrust," and this brings your exegesis to bear on your modern situation through application. What does the text say? What does the text mean? What does the text do? You are supremely after the authorial intent. I personally belong to a school of thought that holds that everything you need to properly understand a passage is in the passage. There is value in background study and cultural study, but I don't have to understand the aqueducts of Laodicea to understand Revelation 3. Dr. John Sailhamer taught this approach to Hermeneutics. Others do bring in historical analysis and so on.
Get into the nitty gritty of word studies. Pay most attention to the verbs. What words are repeated? How are these words used by the same author elsewhere in the book? What can you learn from the syntax? Who is speaking? Who all is present? Who is receiving the message? What kind of literature is this? How does this passage fit into the overall argument of the book? If you need or want to consult resources for any of this, a great budget-friendly tip is to use http://books.google.com and search for your favorites. I like the Baker Exegetical series, the New International Commentary, The New International Greek Text Commentary, Concordia, Holman, and others. I have my go-to people: John Phillips "Exploring" series, MacArthur, Murray Harris, Andreas J. Kostenberger, F. F. Bruce, etc.
You will begin to get a sense of how reliable your exegesis is from the commentaries. A rule of thumb is that you will not be the first person in all of human history to see a certain truth in a given text.
4. Putting the Sermon Together:
Read Wayne McDill's 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching is you have not already done so. He has excellent insight in crafting effective introductions. You want to avoid ruts if you preach to essentially the same audience each week. Your study of the integrating thoughts will show that they all tend to hover around broader categories. You can preach a one-point sermon...it's very effective. The ancient Roman rhetoric format of an intro, 3 points in your body, and conclusion works very well for most passages, especially the epistles. One of the most helpful tips I've ever gotten came again from the Olford Center (Dr. Akin) -- Put your application into the outline points. Use the imperative voice and first or second person in the points, and use complete sentences.
5. Last But Not Least:
Pray over the sermon. As Dr. David Olford stresses in the institutes - prayerfully rehearse the sermon. You want to do at least one sermon run through before you deliver it. My preference is to preach for 20 minutes. Adults nowadays don't even have a 20-minute attention span. The longer the sermon, the shorter the prep. A bit more prep, and it could've been distilled into a much more succinct form. You can pack a real punch in 20 minutes. But seek God's anointing at each step in your process. Something I try to do is find the climax to the sermon, so that the tone is not monotonous. I always ask myself - how can I emphasize Christ and the Gospel more? I know that every page of Scripture points people to the Lord Jesus and ultimately the Cross. I look for connecting points for this.
I plan to put together a resource for sale that will have printable outlines and examples to help you develop and customize a process that works best for you.
Let me share this video I recently watched of one of today's most effective expositors, Dr. Robert Smith, Professor of Christian Preaching, Beeson Divinity School.
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Pastor Billy Shaw is a full-time pastor, husband, and father with a passion for helping other pastors.