As all pastors know, preparing a sermon is hard work. According to research compiled by Thom S. Rainer in 2012, pastors spend plenty of time in sermon preparation each week: 69 percent of pastors surveyed spend over 8 hours a week preparing their sermons. Only 8 percent spend less than 5 hours a week.
Different pastors have different methods for preparing their sermons, and there is no single process that will be best for everyone, but there are some good steps that can aid the formulating of a biblical sermon. Before we consider some of those steps, here’s some groundwork that has to be laid:
Pray. The power of a sermon does not lie in educational background, oratorical skill, or rhetorical prowess; the power is in the Word of God and in the Holy Spirit: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4). Pray for yourself; pray for your congregation, remembering their needs and particular concerns.
Commit yourself to the authority of the Word. The content of preaching should be the Word of God. One of Paul’s last instructions to Timothy was simply “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Preaching the Bible is a high calling, and your messages should be Christocentric and thoroughly biblical (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2).
Plan to start early. Don’t procrastinate. Get started on next Sunday’s sermon as early in the week as possible. The truths you present to others need time to percolate in your own heart and mind first. Devote enough time to develop the sermon properly.
Now, here is a process of the actual preparing of the sermon:
1) Read the passage prayerfully and humbly and allow it to speak to your own heart.
2) Read the passage again, taking notes on impressions that it gives you. Write down the overall theme or lesson of the passage.
3) Research the background, setting, and context of the passage. To whom was it written? What was the occasion of the writing? What leads up to and follows the passage, and how does that affect one’s understanding of the passage?
4) Read the passage again, outlining it into main points and sub-points. Double-check to see that you’re being true to the text. Exegesis is the goal, not eisegesis.
5) Using a concordance or cyclopedic reference, cross-reference the themes developed in the passage with other parts of Scripture. If your passage deals with intercessory prayer, study other passages that address intercessory prayer or that give examples of it. Keep the whole counsel of Scripture in mind as you prepare your notes.
6) Read the passage again, using a word-study help or Hebrew and Greek dictionary to bring out further meaning in the original language.
7) Flesh out your outline with details of how you will communicate the meaning of each section of the passage. Do this with your audience in mind. How do I best relate God’s truth to this group of people? How does this passage impact their lives?
8) Consult various commentaries and sermons to see what other students of the Bible have said about the passage. What insights do they have? Is there something you can glean from their work that will enhance your sermon?
9) Add illustrations or examples that will resonate with your audience and clarify the meaning of various points of the sermon.
10) Revise and polish your outline, paying special attention to logical flow, transitions between points, focus on the theme, and overall clarity. Cut out anything that does not contribute to the overall purpose of your sermon.
11) Prayerfully draft an introduction and conclusion. Write out these portions. Pay special attention to application—what is the follow-through? What’s the action that should follow the message? (Of course, application can be sprinkled throughout the sermon, not just drawn at the end. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7 is a good example of continuous points of application made within a sermon.)
12) Practice. And continue to pray. Pray for clarity, for intensity, for honesty, for practicality, and for wisdom (James 1:5). Pray for God to be glorified and for the Lord Jesus to be magnified.
Charles Spurgeon, the “Prince of Preachers,” stressed the necessity of having a Christ-centered focus in preaching: “Whatever subject I preach, I do not stop until I reach the Savior, the Lord Jesus, for in Him are all things.”