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:

  1. How does it fit into the:
    1. structure of the book in which it is in?
    2. canon in which it is located (ie. New Testament or Old Testament)?
    3. whole Bible?
  2. Are there any allusions to the Old Testament?
  3. What questions do I have of the text?
  4. What pastoral issues are raised by the text?
  5. 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[1] 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:
  1. Christians
    1. a.      Strong Christians
    2. b.      Weak Christians
    3. c.      Hurting Christians
    4. d.      Sinful Christians
    5. e.      Men
    6. f.      Women
    7. Non- Christians
      1. a.      Near to the gospel
      2. b.      Far away from the gospel
      3. c.      Hate the church/Christianity/religion
      4. d.      Backslidden Christians
      5. 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.

[1] 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).


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