One of the greatest joys I’ve had for most of my life is preaching God’s word. I have my hand in a lot of creative outlets and there are many things I enjoy, but preaching tops the list! I love to encourage, exhort, and inspire people to connect with Jesus and deepen their walk with him.
When I first started preaching, I would develop tons of ideas and concepts and try to fit all of my knowledge into one message. Some of that might have been youthful pride in order to wow the crowd with my knowledge. Crazy that it takes me more time to craft a message after doing it for over two decades. I’ve tried a lot of different methods over the years, but there have been a few things that always played a role in the way I prepared a message.
Here are a few strategies I believe are absolutely critical in preparing a message or sermon:
Prayer is the beginning and the end with everything in the Kingdom. Prayer fuels our intimacy with Jesus and prepares us for whatever task we are serving Him through. It sounds simple, but even after 25 years of serving Jesus and preparing messages, the most critical element is the most difficult to master. I really need to pray more over my messages!
The best moments of my sermon preparation is whenever I get away from my keyboard, get alone with God, and listen. I pray in the spirit when I am thinking about my message and always ask God questions in preparation. Sermons that are bathed in prayer, are clothed in power. We can’t get out of it!
Purpose answers the “why.” What is the intent of your message? Is it to equip believers or is it to evangelize the lost? What kind of message are you bringing? Is it expository or topical? (In short, expository means that you break down a portion of text and stick closely to it, whereas topical means you stick to a topic and uncover what scripture tells about it.) Neither is superior and there is plenty of room for both methods. I’m more of a topical preacher myself.
I define the purpose of my message by asking questions:
What is God saying to me?
What is God saying to the audience (through the message)? What does God say in His word?
Delivering is the tip of the iceberg. The heavy lifting comes in the planning stage. There are several things that I use during my sermon planning.
When I am preparing for a sermon series, I will try to listen to other people’s sermons and read books on the content I am bringing. I am not advocating duplication but inspiration. I will often quote another preacher, but always make sure and credit them for the quote. There is no shame in that. Some of my best words have come off the heals of hearing something that provoked me to dig deeper in my study.
I use an older software called Wordsearch. The interface is not the best, but I have built an enormous library over the years with their platform. There are many great online resources and study tools out there like Blueletterbible.com. Whatever software you are using, just make sure that it has some commentaries, Strongs concordance, Vines, etc. (Strongs along with Vines will help you discover the original Hebrew and Greek words of the text)
For commentators I like Matthew Henry and Jamieson-Fausset- Brown.
I highly recommend a Thompson Chain Reference Bible. I have a digital version in my software as well as a physical copy
For translations I use NASV for its accuracy. NIV & NLT for preaching and reading. When studying, I use Parallel between about 8 translations.
This is what my personal planning looks like:
I have a running note on my phone that I jot message/series ideas on. Sometimes they sit in there for years. I usually have about 9 months of series planned out. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I usually have a
loose direction in which I want to go a year out (Keep in mind I preach every Sunday with the exception of about 4 -6 weeks a year). When it gets about a month out, I start planning individual sermons for a series. I prepare specific messages a week out. I am more inspired that way and am naturally a creative thinker, so it works best for me that way. This is what a week of prep looks like for me.
Monday- I don’t put too much deep thought into my message yet because I am trying to recover mentally from the message I preached the day before. If I do spend anytime thinking and praying about the message I add it to the note on my phone. (A specific note tied to the series)
Tuesday- I will most likely listen to inspiration during my morning workout, then spend about an hour looking over text in the when I get to work, collecting thoughts and insight.
Wednesday & Thursday- I devote 2-3 hours per day building my outline while I enter into “deep work.” I put my devices on do not disturb mode, play some chill music, get some vitamin B-12 in my system, light a candle, and engage with the Word and my content. At this time, I transfer all my notes into a Pages (like Word for a Mac) document and start digging through my content.
Friday is my day off- If I have any thoughts I add them, to the running note.
Saturday- I spend 3-4 hours first thing in the morning at the house finalizing my outline.
Sunday– I pray and look over my notes before anyone else arrives at church. I chop my outline up for the media team in Pro-Presenter and YouVersion. I prefer to do this myself because it gives me a last look at my notes.
Things I try to always include in a sermon:
Scripture, personal stories, something practical, something that will challenge or deepen the crowd, (Sometimes the best fruit is not low hanging) a call to action, and always, preach Jesus!
“You will never be able to put the thunder and lightning down on paper” -George Whitfield
I have to be honest. No matter how good the content is, if the speaker is uninspiring, my ADD kicks in and I check out. How you deliver what you are saying bears the weight of the content! So be passionate and PREAAAACH!
Many have stopped using the word preach. We are “giving a talk,” “having a conversation,” or “sharing a word”… call it whatever you want, but whatever you do, don’t bore the listener.
If there is a sin in public speaking, it’s boring people. If you don’t hold people’s attention, it doesn’t really matter what you say. So be passionate, share stories and illustrations. Inspire the people and bring some fire. Be authentic, genuine, relational, and emotional!
And last but certainly not least, love the people well. Not just with your content but with your heart. Don’t be arrogant or mean, be you and represent Jesus well! Sharing God’s word is an incredible opportunity, but it also bears a weight of responsibility. Preachers are a dime a dozen, but pastoring people from the pulpit is a true journey. Love the people like He loves the people and you will do well!