If you’re a preacher then sermon preparation is unavoidably part of your life. Whether you write outlines or read your notes verbatim or preach off the cuff (not recommended), it is a God-given and worthy calling to be developed over time. You should grow and strengthen in this God-given skill for as long as it remains your duty. It must not become old habit, but instead, every sermon should be treated as an opportunity of a lifetime.
For me, the process has changed, or should I say developed over the years, and I hope for the better. I’m learning to entrust the process to Christ more and to the counsel of many a wise preachers of the past and present day whom I look up to.
Here are a few things to take into consideration when preparing a sermon that you may find helpful.
1.) What is a sermon anyway?
It is a body of truth learned from the Scriptures that a preacher/pastor desires to relay to the heart of his listeners in order to affect change. In short, it’s delivering Scriptural truth with power. The key words in that previous sentences are: truth, Scripture, heart and power.
2.) How do you begin?
Without truth, and I do not mean personal, relative or homegrown truth - without the truth of the Bible as the foundation for a sermon, it’s no sermon at all. It’s not worthy of the title and it definitely isn't worth listening to in the context of the local Church where Christ's body desires spiritual food.
The Scriptures are the only source of truth and must be, along with prayer, at the base of every preacher’s preparations. It is not sufficient to go to the Bible with an idea of your own and present it to the Bible for approval. That’s backwards.
Rather the text itself should be the base and the cause for our sermons. The Bible is “sharper than any two edged sword." That is every text of the Bible. It’s alive and active and perfectly able to penetrate the preacher’s heart too. Go to the Bible and let it prick your soul. Let the Word of God speak to you as a human; a needy, helpless-without-Christ kind of person, and when it speaks to you, then you’ve got something to share.
3.) Give Them Something to Chew On
When a sermon is over and the congregation goes home for the day, they should have something to chew on. As preachers, what is it that we want them chewing on?
Think about this. My wife and I feed our children what we believe they need for healthy growth. We tell them quite literally, “you are what you eat.” If you eat junk all the time then that will be the state of your body. If you eat good and healthy food then you most likely will have a healthy body. But it all comes down to what we give them to chew on. What if we gave them nothing but rawhide and leather? “Here, chew on this.” They would labor in agony and in the end have nothing more than a sore jaw to show for it. Sure, they were chewing, but they were given something that could do more harm than good.
Preachers have a similar capability and sermons have a similar capacity to leave the children of God with something either worth chewing on or unfit altogether. We need to be mindful that the food we prepare during our preparation time is something we would want them chewing on, something for spiritual health and growth. Not just ideas and moral examples, but real Biblical truth. The fact is, they are going to chew on whatever you give them but the body may be worse off for it. Don’t let that happen.
4.) Keeping Christ at the Center
“In the volume of the book it is written of me.” (Psalm 40:7, Hebrews 10:7)
This is how we know the Bible is all about Jesus. There are many texts, stories, historical accounts, poems and songs within the pages of the Bible, but what is it all about? According to the Psalmist and the writer to the Hebrews it was all about Christ. Every page. Every stroke of the Spirit-filled writers pen was for one primary purpose; to make Christ known. If this is the main thread holding it all together; if every thought, every sermon of Paul and Peter, every Old Testament victory and every lamb slain was ultimately speaking of Jesus, then how can we struggle so much with text interpretation and sermon ideas.
At the center of it all stands the Messiah. Jesus Christ needs to be the aim of every sermon. Take your listeners from the context of the story you are teaching, walk them through the application for those who lived in that day, even make a few cool points and parallels, but be sure to take them back to Jesus and to that one event that crowns all human history, His cross. If you cannot get there in the forty-five minutes to and hour that you stand at the pulpit, then re-write your sermon and be sure to get them there.
5.) AIM AT THE HUMAN HEART
My final point will be this: that the whole reason of a sermon is not for information delivery only. Instead, as I said in the beginning of this blog, it’s to affect change in the heart. I’ve heard it said that “If you preach to the hurting you will never lack an audience.” That’s true. That’s everyone.
Every person in the congregation and in the world, including preachers, is a real, living and breathing soul. The hurting is due to the fallen sin nature of man that affects everyone. Do not treat the sermon as an opportunity to show your stuff, to tell them what you learned. Use the sermon to get the right information, the Gospel of Jesus Christ to their sin-affected hearts. No matter if you preach topically or verse by verse, the goal is not that you reach a particular stopping point or so that you can tell your preaching peers that you covered so many books of the Bible in one year. The purpose is that souls are fed, hearts are changed and that, through the gospel, dead hearts come to life.
Aim at the human heart with every word. In that forty five minutes to an hour, we have an opportunity to help heal, comfort, shape, rebuke, lift up and even save a soul. When this happens it is not due to oratorical skill or delivery finesse. It will be all glory to Jesus for His work, His Word and His gospel.
Next time you prep out sermon (and this goes for me too) do it with passion for Jesus and His people. I’m learning to see every sermon as an opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity to bring change where it matters most, change in the heart of people for whom Christ died and now lives.