A few words of caution
This way of preparing sermons is something I have worked on for the past 10 years and so it is very comfortable for me. It may not be for you. With this in mind, I suggest you read this blog only as a guide and not as a fixed rule of how you should prepare. I also try to do all my work on the text on Tuesday and then let all the information go around my head for a few days before I write out a final script. Once again, you might be able to do this, but you may not. Find a way of preparing that helps you preach the best sermons!
Step 1: English
In this step I am looking at the English text. I preach using the NIV, so when I am preparing I read the NIV. I ask the following questions when looking at the text:
- How does it fit into the:
- structure of the book in which it is in?
- canon in which it is located (ie. New Testament or Old Testament)?
- whole Bible?
- Are there any allusions to the Old Testament?
- What questions do I have of the text?
- What pastoral issues are raised by the text?
- If I could summarise what the author is saying, how would I say it?
Step 2: Flowchart
If I am preaching from a New Testament Epistle I always flowchart the Greek text. If you have not learned how to read Greek yet flowchart in English. For more information on flowcharting or sentence diagramming go here.
Step 3: Greek
When I am in the New Testament I do my own translation and try to use Wallace to see what is ‘happening’ in the text. If you do not know how to read Greek yet I would read a few different literal translations (e.g. NASB, ESV etc.)
Step 4: Application
When I work on application, I think of hitting a home run in baseball:
- 1st base is me. How does the text apply to me? I find I preach far better if the text has ‘hit’ me and I have allowed the Holy Spirit to apply the text to my heart. I also want to live out the application – starting as soon as it hits me.
- 2nd base is the worldview base. I am asking ‘What worldview does this text confront, respond to or justify?’ and ‘How would I preach this text in such a way that people can see how this text relates to their worldview?’
- 3rd base is my hearers. I am trying to directly apply the text to two different groups of people here, and within those two groups I am thinking of many subgroups. The two main groups and their subgroups are as follows:
- a. Strong Christians
- b. Weak Christians
- c. Hurting Christians
- d. Sinful Christians
- e. Men
- f. Women
- Non- Christians
- a. Near to the gospel
- b. Far away from the gospel
- c. Hate the church/Christianity/religion
- d. Backslidden Christians
- e. Different groups within our community, e.g. environmentalists
Step 5: Break up and big idea
By this stage I should have a breakup of the passage, which I try to make memorable. For example, if I was preaching on Mark 8:27-38, I may break it up like this:
- Jesus – The man (8:27-30)
- Jesus – The mission (8:31-33)
- Jesus – The cost (8:34-38)
I also should have a big idea. The big idea is a one-sentence summary that should encapsulate what the text is about. Using Mark 8:27-38 as an example again, I might say “This passage is teaching us about the identity, mission and call of Jesus.”
Step 6: Commentaries
I try to read 6 different commentaries. I try to read different types of commentaries (e.g. technical, narrative, theological, expositional, etc.). I am looking for answers to the questions I have about the text as well as any insights into the original language, theology or historical background of the text.
Step 7: Canonical Theologies
I then read an Old/New Testament theology. I look up the Scripture index to find out where my text is referred to, and then I read those pages/sections and note down anything that I can use.
Step 8: Systematic Theologies
I do exactly what I did for Canonical Theologies with Systematic Theologies. I always read Calvin’s Institutes & supplement this with one or two others.
Step 9: Historical Theology
By this time I may have some idea of where the doctrines in the text have come up in church history and based on time and relevance I may get a feel for how the issue has played out in history (given what I know of church history). Or, I may read a sermon from one of the ‘greats’ (Spurgeon, Edwards, Luther, Calvin etc.) on the text I am looking at. However I never listen to mp3’s of great preachers of today on the text I am preaching on, because I feel it leads me to either despair because my sermon sucks or I find that I just use what they say and don’t do the hard work on the text myself.
Step 10: Full text
I then write out a full text of the sermon which helps me get my ideas together and I have found if I do not do this my delivery is not as good as it should be.
Step 11: Summary
I write out a summary of my main points and give myself little phrases to jog my memory for illustrations, quotes, etc.
Preparing sermons or talks is a massive responsibility which should not be taken lightly. I hope this blog helps you to work hard on preparing any talk whether it be a talk for your youth group,your church a camp or wherever.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).