I’ve the last few weeks, preaching has been on my mind a lot. Stephen Kneale posted an article about his own sermons prep. At the time, mid-August, Stephen was finishing off his sermons for November. The guy plans ahead. But also the other day I came across someone quoting John Stott. Apparently Stott said that a preacher needs to dedicate one hour of prep for every 5 minutes of preaching. That sounds like a lot, initially, but that’s only 6 hours prep for a 30 minute sermon.
Realistically every preacher is different, so I thought I’d share my prep for you. I’m not a renowned preacher, I don’t have decades of experience, but this is the pattern that I’ve found work for me best.
The most important thing in all of this is constant prayer. If a sermon isn’t coming together, it’s normally because in my pride and busyness, I haven’t spend enough time bringing it before the Lord. I pray for the Holy Spirit to open my eyes and do a work in my heart, I pray for the congregation who will hear it and I pray that most important everything that is of me would be forgotten but all that is of God would remain and be a blessing to His people.
If I’m writing a sermon series I will read the book multiple times, mark up the text in a journaling Bible or a scripture journal and come to a big message of the book. I’ll then split the book into sermon sections. From there I will type up a document that has an introduction to the book, an overview, a list of commentaries and other resources and the sermon splits. Finally, under each split I’ll put in what I consider to be the main verse, potential structure of the sermon and the key themes, applications and maybe some pastoral stuff that need to be addressed. I recently did this for Job and the document was around 5,000 words. It’s a lot of work but it makes it easier in the long run and stops every sermon being applied the same way, but let’s the text drive the sermon. It also means that every preacher involved in the series is on the same page.
For an individual sermon I read the text about 5 times, mark it out like mad and make notes of the flow, structure, wording and other connections. Then I’ll summarise the text into a big idea and think of a structure. All this time I will be speaking with people, church staff or church members, and just mulling over the text. With members I’ll normally talk about the passage and it’s applications and how that has been effecting my life that week. All of this is designed for the text to first so a work in my own heart before it hits a pulpit.
Then comes the writing. I’ll write a terrible introduction (because I really struggle with illustrations) and only then am I able to write the body of the sermon. I don’t know why, but if I’m not happy with the intro or sermon outline I just can’t write.
At the beginning of lockdown I really struggled to write sermons. I’m a pastor so I love to spend time with people. Being locked behind a screen was really hard for me. So, over lockdown, I started dictating my sermons to my phon and found that gave me at least a basis to be able to write something. I still do it now if I’m stuck, speaking helps me more than staring at a screen.
My first draft will be around 3,000 words, which works out at around 28-30 minutes. I’ve been trying to intentionally reduce my word count to allow more space for reflection and pauses.
I would normally only consult commentaries after I’ve written my first draft, unless there’s a particular point in the text that I need help on. This means that I’m not tempted to take someone else’s work and make it my own, but it also means that I’m preaching and not some academic that the church doesn’t know personally. I’m also starting to use far fewer commentaries than before, but that’s a topic for a whole new post.
This is probably the part of my prep that differs from most others and some people think is weird. I preach every sermon to my wife before it hits a pulpit. God has given my wife wisdom and insight, she often helps me tremendously in my initial prep and she knows me. Therefore, she often knows what I’m trying to say, even if what I actually say makes no sense. Having a fresh pair of ears is helpful and my wife makes every sermon I preach a better sermon.
I encourage the preachers group I run to do this. It is nerve wracking to begin with, but now I can’t imagine it any other way.
After I’ve implemented my wife’s feedback, I just practice my script. I preach full script because I know that I don’t think quickly on my feet, so I want to make sure that I’m making sense when preaching. But I also don’t want to be reading off a piece of paper (or an iPad, which is what I use to preach). So, I practice. I will normally try preach through my sermon 6 times. This means I’m comfortable with the script, I know it well enough in case anything happens and it means that I can engage more with the congregation.
All that is left is to pray a ton more, to ask the Holy Spirit to move in the Lord’s people as we gather around the Word and to do my best for the glory of God.
It is a privilege to preach God’s Word, it is a joy to be paid to spend most of my time in the Bible reading it with others and preaching. I pray that my heart would never become numb to the joy and responsibility it is to preach the Word of the Lord to His people.