How I prepare a sermon

Several people have recently asked me what process I go through in sermon preparation, so I thought I’d share it here. This is a far longer post than normal, but perhaps other preachers (particularly younger men) might find it useful.

There are five steps that are important to me:

  1. Divide: Firstly, I decide how many verses should I preach on by looking for divisions at the beginning and end of the passage. I’m looking for a natural unit in the passage that has plenty to say. With compact historical literature (like 2 Kings or Chronicles) it’s usually a story. With other narrative literature (e.g. the Pentateuch, or the Gospels) it’s usually a scene. With epistles its usually a large paragraph. With prophetic books its usually a complete oracle or sermon.
  2. Dissect: Then I split up, or dissect the passage by determine the main point of the passage, and the sub-points which serve it. This is strongly related to the first step. If the ‘division’ I’ve chosen has more than one main point, it’s too long. But it must have a few sub-points that feed the main point. If it hasn’t, it’s too short.
  3. Discover: Next I try to carefully exegete each point to discover the original meaning and principles. It means understanding both the meaning to the original hearers/readers, and the timeless principles that flow from it. When dealing with the Old Testament I look at the first step (the original meaning) purely from an Old Testament perspective, but the second step (the timeless principles) through a New Testament lens. There must be an inarguable link between these two steps. Every member of the congregation must be able to see how I got from (a) What the Bible said, to (b) What the Bible means. If they can’t, there’s no power in the message – it’s man’s words, not God’s Word.
  4. Digest: Fourth, I think and pray through each principle to determine the application, to me, and try to digest the truth. If I haven’t taken this truth on board myself, I can’t preach it. This is where a lot of the prayer comes.
  5. Disseminate: Finally, all of this needs to go in a form which can be passed on. In other words, the sermon can now be written. I pass this teaching on to my congregation, they need to apply it to themselves and be able to pass it on to others. This means short points made easy to understand and apply. To maximise the impact, the application needs to be focussed, not vague, but it also must apply to the whole congregation, not just one or two. I’ll want my sermon to have an introduction, a few points, and a conclusion. Within each point I’ll want teaching, illustration and application. The whole thing must be very tightly linked to the text of the Bible – if it’s not, it’s my words not God’s Word.

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